School Board Member Frank Kovach announced in April he will not run for reelection after 16 years of service. Kovach said the recent nonpartisan school board race was “corrupted by cash” and he expects the trend to continue. Former Sarasota GOP chair, Eric Robinson (husband of County Commissioner Christine Robinson), has announced he is running for the seat Kovach intends to vacate.
When Kovach first ran for school board in 2000, $10,000 for a campaign would have been a lot. Last fall’s race between Bridget Zeigler and Ken Marsh had each candidate raising over $51,000 and $72,000, respectively, with Zeigler getting an additional $50,000 in dark money PAC support. The PAC, Citizens Against Taxation brought in big dough to support Zeigler’s successful run. Eric Robinson was the PAC’s chair, treasurer and registered agent (the PAC folded this past February).
The Herald-Tribune reported last fall on difficulty tracing a major donor to the Citizens for Taxation PAC. The donor in question, Phoenix Media, gave $45,000 to the PAC. Robinson refused to disclose who was behind Phoenix Media and the Zeigler PAC financed mailers, saying “donors don’t want to be identified.” Robinson refused to say where Phoenix Media was based (the company doesn’t do business in Florida) and told the newspaper “You’re not going to find it.” Robinson would only affirm the company filed LLC paperwork in the United States.
My research turned up five Phoenix Media LLCs in the United States—they are in New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Oregon and Wyoming. The NJ and NY Phoenix LLCs don’t list registered agents, but have been in existence since 1997 and 2002. The Oregon and South Carolina Phoenix LLCs seemed unremarkable, with registered agents who are actual people. Phoenix Media, LLC in Cheyenne, Wyoming is a different animal.
Phoenix Media in Cheyenne was formed in July 2014. The $45,000 in donations to Robinson’s Citizens Against Taxation PAC from the unidentified Phoenix Media began in August 2014 and ended in October 2014.
The Wyoming Phoenix Media’s business principal, mailing and registered agent are all listed as Wyomingregisteredagent.com, Inc. It seems in Wyoming, the level of anonymity and untraceability for LLCs is such that you don’t even have to identify an actual human being with a company—you can use a website.
Phoenix Media LLC in Wyoming shares its address, 1621 Central Avenue, with 250 other LLCs. Another 250 LLCs are listed next door, at 1620 Central Avenue in Cheyenne. Scores of these firms also list Wyomingregisteredagent.com, Inc. as their registered agent, just as Phoenix Media does. Is this a cottage industry of untraceable LLCs donating to PACs?
We shouldn’t be wondering who from out of state is pumping thousands of dollars into our school board races. With over 30 PACs supervised by Robinson, continuously being created and disbanded, and hundreds of thousands of dollars passing through these entities, it’s too late for Robinson to make any claims to transparency as a candidate—that ship has sailed. The corruption of nonpartisan school board races by Robinson-assisted dark money ought to disqualify him as a candidate for school board.
There are significant concerns in the community regarding the ethics of Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson’s dual employment by the Argus Foundation. Click here for a summary of the issue and petition, Robinson’s Conflict of Interest, Step Down From Argus or the County Commission:
Background information for this article:
Herald Tribune stories on dark money in 2014 school board race, click on links:
Wyoming Phoenix Media LLC state filing, click on link:
250 LLCs at 1621 Central Ave, Cheyenne WY (Phoenix Media address) click on link:
250 LLCs at 1620 Central Ave, Cheyenne WY (next door to Phoenix Media LLC address) click for PDF