TAMPA — A number of prominent Tampa area Democrats have been puzzling over invitations they got to a fundraiser last week for Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Heading the list was Scott’s likely Democratic opponent, former Gov. Charlie Crist. According to interviews and Facebook postings, others receiving invitations included current and former Democratic Party officers, candidates, campaign staffers and committed grass-roots activists.
None can explain why.
“I was surprised. The only other correspondence I’ve ever gotten from (Scott) was to tell me he was going to rescind my appointment to the Volunteer Florida commission,” said Judithanne Scourfield McLauchlan, a Democratic state House candidate, who got an invitation. “I’m a candidate for office because I’m disgusted with the status quo in Tallahassee. I’m not planning to support Rick Scott.”
Most of those who got the invitations said they’ve had some recent contact with the Governor’s Office or the Department of State, and some questioned whether that was how the Scott campaign got their names and addresses.
It’s illegal for a tax-funded agency such as the Governor’s Office to use its resources for a political campaign or coordinate activities with a campaign.
But it would be legal, said Tallahassee elections law expert Mark Herron, for a campaign to make a request to the Governor’s Office under Florida’s public records for records including a mailing list.
That apparently didn’t happen, though.
Scott’s campaign denied the mailing list came from the Governor’s Office or any other public agency. The campaign said Crist, a former Republican, got an invitation because he was on a list of people who had donated to Republican candidates in the past.
But the campaign wouldn’t say where the other Democratic names on mailing list came from, and those interviewed said they’ve never contributed to a Republican.
Democrats have been accusing Scott of using the resources of the Governor’s Office to benefit his campaign, including holding official, taxpayer-funded events in Tampa to emphasize campaign talking points on Medicare and university tuition.
The April 3 fundraiser at the Bayshore Boulevard home of Gary and Margo Harrod included most of the biggest-name Republican fundraisers and donors in the Tampa area. It cost $1,000 per person minimum to attend, or $10,000 for the VIP reception/photo opportunity.
Invitees also included:
♦ Sarasota County Democratic Party Chairwoman Rita Ferrandino.
♦ Former Hillsborough County Democratic Party Chairwoman Lynn Marvin.
♦ McLauchlan, who’s a former Ciinton White House staffer and University of South Florida political scientist.
♦ Tampa City Council member Yvonne Yolie Capin, a Democrat although her council seat is a non-partisan post.
♦ St. Petersburg lawyer Ben Diamond, a political supporter and former staffer for Democrat Alex Sink.
♦ Retired University of South Florida professor Roy Weatherford, a former faculty union leader and veteran Democratic activist along with his wife, historian Doris Weatherford.
♦ Tampa Tiger Bay Club President Gary Dolgin.
♦ Former Pinellas County Democratic state House candidate Mary Lou Ambrose.
♦ Pinellas County Democratic donors Ellen Floriani, Lisa Johni Mary Ann Renfrow and others.
♦ Franco Ripple, who works for a public relations firm employed by the Crist campaign.
A few said they had received letters from the Governor’s Office recently congratulating them on new jobs or on their work on governing boards or commissions, or had recently renewed corporate registrations with the Department of State.
Over the last year or so, Scott has been sending letters to lawyers newly admitted to the Florida Bar and business owners seeking licenses, and talking about his political views and the achievements of his administration. The letters drew criticism from some who said they amounted to using the governor’s office to campaign.
Capin said she and other Tampa City Council members recently received letters from Scott’s office congratulating them on their service.
Tiger Bay President Dolgin, a lawyer, said he has contacted the governor’s office in the past to invite Scott to speak to the club, and couldn’t think of any other way the Scott campaign could have obtained his address.
Ferrandino said she’s never had contact with the governor’s office, but is head of several Florida corporations, all registered at her home address, and is also on the board of the Sarasota County Rowing Association.
Asked if she’s ever contributed to a Republican, she said, “Absolutely not.”