The Florida Elections Commission has collected a significant fine from a Palm City political committee that violated Florida elections laws.
Martin County Residents for Tax Fairness and its chairman, John McAuliffe, paid a $4,500 fine pursuant to a Consent Order that concluded there were multiple violations of Florida elections laws by the PAC that was set up to funnel money from the Lake Point rockpit operators into a stunningly unsuccessful attempt to unseat Martin County Commissioners Ed Fielding and Sarah Heard during the 2014 elections.
Cowardly individuals who circulate anonymous e-mails and political poopaganda spread by an unsuccessful commission candidate and a bitter former Stuart News managing editor who now runs an on-line political blog from Tallahassee that also refuses to identify its owner(s) haven’t mentioned the FEC consent order that John McAuliffe and Martin County Residents for Tax Fairness negotiated to avoid a full-fledged investigation. The Consent Order was approved by the FEC at its August meeting in Tallahassee.
In response to complaints filed by Martin County resident Donna Melzer, an FEC reviewer determined there were grounds to investigate the PAC that reported spending more than $150,000 on flyers, mailers, and advertisements aimed at getting a Lake Point employee and a giveaway tabloid publisher elected to the Martin County Commission.
The complaints were filed against the PAC and its chairman, McAuliffe, and treasurer, John Hennessee.
The FEC reviewer concluded that “it appears that the Complainant may be correct in her assertion that Respondent disclosed false or incorrect information on the CTR (Campaign Treasurer’s Report)” by certifying reports that failed to give the true identity of donors that used fake names and “it does not appear that Respondent disclosed the expenditures or in-kind contributions” for a newspaper advertisement, TV commercial and robo calls sponsored by the PAC, violating several provisions of Florida elections law.
The reviewer recommended that the commission order an investigation “to determine whether the other expenditures questioned by Complainant were authorized without sufficient funds,” another statutory violation.
But counsel for Hennessee, McAuliffe and the PAC sought to head off any investigation. After being notified of the determination that the complaints were legally sufficient for investigation by the FEC (except for complaints regarding late filing of campaign finance reports, which were previously addressed by the local Supervisor of Elections), the PAC/McAuliffee/Hennessee attorney asked that all responsibility be shifted to McAuliffe because, although Hennessee was the PAC’s treasurer, he “performed no duties as Treasurer as all aspects of this position were conducted by the Chairman, John McAuliffe.” Mr. McAuliffe, the attorney wrote, “had to undertake the duties of Treasurer and was overwhelmed” handling the duties that Hennessee was supposed to have handled.
Giving new meaning to the notion of good faith compliance with the law, the Hennessee/McAuliffe/PAC attorney wrote that McAuliffe and Hennessee “showed good faith in abiding by Florida Election laws by immediately paying any fines [the] committee was assessed” by the Supervisor of Elections for late filing campaign reports that prevented public disclosure of donors until after the primary election.
“To conserve Commission resources and prior to probable cause investigation, Respondent believes it is in his best interest to enter into negotiations directed toward reaching a settlement” with the FEC regarding the complaints, the Hennessee/McAuliffe/PAC attorney concluded. So the FEC agreed to dismiss the complaint against Hennessee and entered into a Consent Order with McAuliffe finding that there were elections law violations without further investigation, stating: “The Commission finds that the Respondent has violated Sections 106.07(5), 106.11(4) and 106.19(1)(c), Florida Statutes.”
The $4,500 fine that was imposed – over and above the $1,600 in fines that the PAC previously paid for late filing campaign finance reports — is significantly higher than the usual $200 or $400 fine assessed for elections law violators.
Earlier this year, Martin County Leadership Council, Inc., and its chairman, Ron Wardell, entered into a Consent Order in response to another complaint related to the McAuliffe/Hennessee complaints and paid a $400 fine for failing to timely register the corporation as a political committee. Payment of the fine avoided an investigation and requirement that Wardell identify the source of the $23,000 that his committee contributed to the McAuliffe/Hennessee PAC.
The McAuliffe/Hennessee PAC may have used more of its donors’ funds for attorneys’ fees and fines than many PACs spend on legitimate campaign efforts.
Of course, the donors – at least those who can be identified from campaign finance reports – are not likely to complain, since they were mostly related to the Lake Point rockpit in western Martin County that is owned in part by George Lindemann Jr., who served time in federal prison for having his show horse electrocuted in a scheme to collect $250,000 in insurance proceeds.
Lindemann and his partners filed litigation against Martin County, the South Florida Water Management District, and a SLAPP against Maggy Hurchalla for criticizing the environmentally questionable Lake Point project. One of the candidates the McAuliffe/Hennessee PAC supported was a Lake Point employee.
The donors — in addition to Wardell’s untimely registered PAC — were attorneys for Lake Point and a Coral Springs PAC that received large donations from the Lake Point entities. (A donation of $2,000 was made by Sailfish Marina owners Jan and Volney Bayley and nearly $30,000 was donated by two non-existent entities with questionable Palm City addresses — Treasure Coast Citizen’s Council and Martin County Infrastructure Policy Council, Inc.)
The negotiation of the Consent Order may serve its intended purpose of avoiding an investigation into the activities of the McAuliffe/Hennessee PAC and the true identities of all the donors.
But Martin County residents were not fooled in the last campaign by misleading materials financed and produced by the McAuliffe/Hennessee PAC. Voters overwhelmingly returned Commissioners Fielding and Heard to office for four more years of supporting and defending the Martin County Difference.
No matter how hard they try, anonymous e-mailers and pretend reporters who just can’t get the facts straight will not fool residents in the future with continued efforts to distort the truth about Lindemann’s Lake Point litigation, Community Redevelopment Areas, Big Sugar’s role in polluting our waterways, Comprehensive Plan protections for wetlands, shorelines, and our Urban Services Boundaries.
LITTMAN, SHERLOCK & HEIMS, P.A.
P.O. Box 1197
Stuart, FL 34995