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  1. Florida Politics

William March: Democratic contribution shows creep of party politics into supposedly non-partisan races.

The local Democratic Party has reported giving $5,000 to newly-elected Tampa City Council member John Dingfelder's campaign, a contribution that would be illegal if Dingfelder accepted it.

In its most recent finance report, the party reported making the contribution March 25 to Dingfelder, who won the citywide District 3 council seat in Tuesday's runoff. Dingfelder did not report accepting it.

If he did, said City Attorney Salvatore Territo, it would violate city code provisions governing Tampa's non-partisan elections. Under those laws, council and mayoral candidates may not run as representatives of a party or accept money or endorsements from parties.

The incident indicates how, despite those laws, party politics has crept into the supposedly non-partisan races.

Both local parties routinely identify and support candidates of their parties, and encourage party activists to work on their campaigns. Major donors of both parties backed mayoral candidates in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Both newly-elected Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and her opponent David Straz switched registration to Democratic before running in Democratic-dominated Tampa.

Dingfelder has long been an active Democrat; his opponent, Stephen Lytle, is a former Republican and now a no-party registrant.

Asked about the contribution, Dingfelder initially said he wasn't aware of a cash contribution, but said, "If something's been done wrong, I'll fix it."

Local party Chairman Ione Townsend said she didn't know how the contribution came to be made, but said, "We'll apprise all our officers of the rule and make sure we're not putting any candidates in jeopardy."

Spano campaign hasn't repaid his loans

With a lot of help from Republican House leadership and political action committees, Rep. Ross Spano raised $223,968 in the first three months of 2019, but his campaign hasn't repaid any of the loans he made to it.

Spano has filed to run for re-election in 2020.

His campaign committee was heavily in debt after his 2018 race and remains so. At the end of the first quarter of 2019, it owed $335,979, and had $218,331 in cash on hand, according to his latest federal campaign finance report.

The campaign didn't make any payments on its debts during the quarter.

The debts include $169,500 that Spano loaned his campaign his 2018 race, and $166,479 owed to campaign consultants and other vendors.

Spano has acknowledged that his loans to the campaign may have violated federal election law when he borrowed money from two friends and then made the loans to the campaign, reporting that the money came from his personal funds.

He announced in January that he has obtained a bank loan to repay the loans from his friends. Complaints have been filed to the Federal Election Commission about the loans.

Spano's first quarter fundraising included $71,528 from Take Back the House 2020, a new Republican fundraising committee linked to House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. He got $57,900 more from various political action committees.

He raised $94,539 from individual donors, nearly all of it in contributions of $1,000 or more.

House leadership has also placed Spano in an advantageous position to raise more campaign money, making him the top Republican member of a subcommittee of the Small Business Committee.

Miller keeping options open after 2020

As his county commissioner career winds down, Les Miller has become the driving force in implementing the All for Transportation initiative.

As the senior member of the commissioners' Democratic majority, Miller is chairman of the board and also of the boards of HART and the Metropolitan Planning organization, and has become, in the opinion of many political insiders, the most powerful black political figure in county history.

Those insiders also speculate on his future after he hits his 2020 term limit.

Nearing 68, Miller says he'll make a decision about that in a few weeks, and it could include seeking another elective office — but not the state Legislature.

"That would be a big no," he said.

Miller has been the most outspoken critic of Commissioner Stacy White's lawsuit against the initiative, and has pushed for the county, HART and the MPO to go forward with issuing bonds and completing interlocal agreements for the initiative despite the lawsuit.

"I know we've got the legal issues out there, but the voters voted to tax themselves for transportation improvements, and I'm one that believes when the voters speak, that's what we have to do," he said.

Transit advocate Kevin Thurman noted that the other three Democratic commissioners, Pat Kemp, Kimberly Overman and Mariella Smith, have all been advocates for the initiative, and Republicans Ken Hagan and Sandy Murman have voted with the majority.

But he said Miller stands out because of his seniority and experience, "being in the right place at the time."