TAMPA — Bill Fletcher made at least $2.8 million running David Straz’s 2019 mayoral campaign, the most expensive race by far in the city’s history and one that ended in a lopsided loss for Fletcher’s candidate.
Straz died in November. But Fletcher says the philanthropist’s estate owes him more money: $112,113 to be exact.
The Nashville-based political consultant filed suit in Hillsborough County against Straz’s estate last month, saying Straz hadn’t reimbursed him for campaign expenses. Straz’s campaign was almost wholly self-funded with the retired banker spending more than $6 million in a bid that ended in a rout to Mayor Jane Castor.
Fletcher’s suit states that he tried repeatedly to get reimbursed, but Straz kept putting him off.
On September 10, 2019 Straz emailed Fletcher, saying that he was under doctor’s care and would not do anything that may cause him stress. Straz also told Fletcher, according to the suit, that he was seeking an attorney to handle the matter before he died.
Fletcher didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday. His Tampa attorney, Elizabeth G. Devolder, released the following statement:
“We are simply seeking reimbursement for expenses paid on Mr. Straz’s behalf, and using the legal process required by the courts to obtain payment of a debt after someone’s death. We look forward to resolving the issue as quickly as possible.”
But Jarrod Holbrook, who served as Straz’s communication director during the campaign, said Fletcher’s accounting had been suspect.
”David made it very clear to me that Fletcher never provided back-up documentation, only self-produced invoices. He could never justify excessive expenditures that went hundreds of thousands of dollars over the approved budget,” Holbrook said Tuesday.
Holbrook now runs Straz’s charitable foundation, which is separate from the estate. He made clear he wasn’t speaking on behalf of the Straz estate, which is represented by Straz’s brother, Christopher. Christopher Straz didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
After the April 2019 loss in a runoff election, several of Straz’s campaign aides complained about Fletcher’s spending and decision making. They said only Fletcher knew how the money was being spent.
Straz spent $345 per vote to Castor’s $44, nearly all of it from his $426 million fortune.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates at tampabay.com.