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David Straz says he won't accept any donation larger than $500 for his mayoral campaign. But he has — at least 12 times

CHRIS URSO   |   Times Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz has said he won't accept donations larger than $500. But he has done so at least 12 times.
CHRIS URSO | Times Tampa mayoral candidate David Straz has said he won't accept donations larger than $500. But he has done so at least 12 times.
Published Apr. 9, 2019

TAMPA — David Straz vaporized all spending records for a Tampa election months ago, almost all of it with cash from his vast fortune.

But often lost amid the focus on Straz's wealth is a campaign promise the retired banker has made repeatedly since he entered Tampa's mayoral race in May: He won't accept any more than $500 from any person or business.

Straz, 76, rarely missed an opportunity to tout his financial independence during the forums in the general election. Most recently, he repeats the claim in a radio spot airing this week.

He's broken that pledge.

A Times analysis of Straz's campaign contributions shows at least 12 individuals and entities have given more than $500 to the campaign, for a total of $11,950.

Many of the contributors broke up their donations into smaller increments, often on the same day, according to records available on the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections website.

A Robert Newman from the same address as of Tampa's J.C. Newman Cigar Company gave the campaign a $200 check and an $800 in-kind contribution in July and September. Newman is one of the owners.

Newman's nephew Drew said his uncle wasn't aware of Straz's campaign promise and no one from the campaign has contacted them to refund or reallocate their money.

Robert Newman gave the same amount to Jane Castor's campaign, Drew Newman said.

Michael Foley, a Tampa insurance agent, gave three donations totaling $700 within two weeks in February.

Ten individuals or businesses contributed at least $1,000, including Tampa House of Coffee.

Straz frequently mentions his pledge not to accept large donations as proof of integrity. His campaign has also criticized his opponent Jane Castor for accepting more than $100,000 from Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik, among others.

Why would a candidate worth $426 million break his own pledge to limit campaign contributions?

The Straz campaign responded with a statement.

"A handful of people have contributed more than $500 to the campaign and are on the report. When we get a contribution of more than $500, we either return the excess money or allow the contributor to exchange the check for checks of $500 each from friends or family. Not all of those refunds or reattributions have been completed, but they will be," read an email from spokesman Jarrod Holbrook.

The only refund recorded in the required campaign filings was a July 4 refund of $250 to Tampa consultant Charles Britton, who had originally donated $750 to the campaign.

Holbrook didn't respond to text and phone messages requesting proof of any other refunds or reallocations.

Through March 22, Straz had raised $3.9 million, nearly all of it from his own pockets, and has spent $3.3 million, dwarfing Castor's $1.4 million.

The race, which ends April 23, has smashed all previous records for spending, topping $5 million and far exceeding what had been a Tampa Bay high-water mark: the 2017 St. Petersburg race between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker, which topped $3 million.

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The Castor campaign didn't respond to a request for comment.

Contact Charlie Frago at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727)893-8459. Follow@CharlieFrago.

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