Tallahassee, Fla — In a letter addressed to our publisher, the general counsel for Florida’s Department of State seems to be saying something akin to “candidates running for public office no longer need to disclose on advertising who is paying for that advertising and if you don’t file your treasurer’s reports on time, it’s not a problem, we’re not going to fine you the thousands of dollars as required under state law.” The letter, in typical government fashion, is dated June 19, 2017, but wasn’t postmarked until June 27, 2017.
So, let’s get down to specifics as to what we’re talking about. Palm Beach County Soil & Water Conservation District candidate Rob Long won his race in the November 2016 general election. During his campaign, Long’s campaign road signs were found throughout Palm Beach County without the required disclosure language and also was raising money for his campaign without filing treasurer’s reports. These signs seem to be a clear violation of Florida Statute 106.143 which reads, “Failure of a person to prominently mark all political advertisements with a proper political disclaimer.” We know they are Long’s signs and not some other individual or committee, as Long paid $853 to an outfit in Tampa, Fla for them.
Not until 13 days after the election, Long filed all his treasurer’s reports in one day noting all the money he had been raising and spending during his campaign. Florida Statute 106.07 reads, “Failure of the treasurer of a candidate or political committee to file regular reports of all contributions received, and all expenditures made, by or on behalf of the candidate or political committee.” The penalty can be anywhere from $50 – $500 per day that the campaign is in violation. In this case, the campaign seems to have been in violation for months of not reporting regularly. Amber Sacks, an elections specialist with the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Office, stated in an email this afternoon, “Before you start collection or spending any money you would need to file the Appointment of Campaign Treasurer and Designation of Campaign Depository with our office. You are correct that once you file this form you will then have to follow the monthly reporting schedule until the end of your campaign.” Long did not file timely treasurer’s reports for his campaign even though he spent over $1,000 to robo-call voters.
The late filings should have cost him thousands of dollars in accrued late filing penalties, but according to the State of Florida, they can’t seem to find evidence of any violations. This, even though direct evidence was given them, the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections office, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi, and the Office of Inspector General for Palm Beach County. It has been like a “hot potato” as we were directed from office to office over the course of months in our attempt to get a determination whether Long violated Florida’s elections laws.
It took seven months to get today’s response so apparently with their inaction, the State of Florida is saying it is OK for candidates to file all their treasurer’s reports two weeks after the election and it is also OK not to disclose who is paying for your signs.