Prince of Dark Money

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.

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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:

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/robinsons-conflict-of-interest-step-down-from

 

Background information for this article:

Herald Tribune stories on dark money in 2014 school board race, click on links:

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20141024/ARCHIVES/410241053?p=1&tc=pg&tc=ar

http://www.heraldtribune.com/article/20150422/ARCHIVES/504221054/-1/todayspaper?Title=KOVACH-SAYS-HE-S-FINISHED

Wyoming Phoenix Media LLC state filing, click on link:

https://wyobiz.wy.gov/Business/FilingDetails.aspx?eFNum=032129063052086130228032043232108196150036046075

250 LLCs at 1621 Central Ave, Cheyenne WY (Phoenix Media address) click on link:

http://www.bizapedia.com/addresses/1621-CENTRAL-AVE-CHEYENNE-WY-82001.html

250 LLCs at 1620 Central Ave, Cheyenne WY (next door to Phoenix Media LLC address)  click for PDF

http://www.bizapedia.com/addresses/1620-CENTRAL-AVE-STE-202-CHEYENNE-WY-82001.html

 

11 Comments on Prince of Dark Money

  1. H’mm. Wonder where Marsh’s money came from? Don’t suppose it would have anything to do with the corrupt left-wing Teachers Union or their minions. Corrupt mob? Tyrants? nazi Party? Really people, get a life or take off the tinfoil.r

  2. About time someone called out these weird groups with key words in them, like “Freedom”, “America” “No Taxation” “Family” “Rights” “Homeland”– well, you get the picture. As soon as I see these labels, I’m pretty sure where they come from. Interesting use of “Phoenix”– as that is the name of our progressive little news paper here in this area- I am quite sure the ultra right is trying to confuse and divide with the naming of this little shell LLC in it’s advertising. How about this? Don’t vote for ANYONE with the backing of a non-local, FL registered group anywhere associated with it!!

  3. Unfortunately, it seems everything is always about the “green”. I found it hard to believe that a non-partisan school board race would attract this kind of economic attention. But then I remembered that the right-wing would like to (re)educate our children and indoctrinate them into their beliefs. Not too different from the Nazi party’s take over of Germany. The world seems to be getting too “1984” for me. There seems to be no one to vote for or to trust in government any more. I find this article more than amazing in its revelations!!

  4. Cathy, the level of your sleuthing is beyond impressive. We stay as citizens of Sarasota because your voice adds transparency to an otherwise dark shadow following many of the political and business dealings going on in this corrupted enclave.
    Now the issue is how to motivate people to act effectively with this information and effect change.
    Your article is the kind of fact checking investigative journalism that is our last hope and chance in the country to change the money talking quagmire that reflects the impending complete collapse of what was once referred to As a democracy .
    As I read your piece I am reminded how often this type of dark money scenario is being played out in other communities across the country and the coomplaceny that has set in when we no long trust our government of the people and for the people because it fails us so oftten especially when the highest court of the land the not so Supreme Court basically sanctions this form of currpution
    Thanks once again for being such an astute watchdog
    Don Guy

    • Thank you for Reading my article. One thing we can all do is share this information so please post it on your Facebook page or Twitter let others know. Thanks!

  5. Spot on report about the infiltration of Dark Money and its introduction into the school board race by Eric “Karl Rovian” Robinson. The Wyoming LLC is amusing, the Economist list this company as the “Switzerland of Wyoming” not exactly an endorsement of respect in my opinion.

    • Thanks for your comment! Found the article you note about Wyoming as a money laundering haven: http://www.economist.com/node/13382279

      Apparently Wyoming, along with Deleware and Nevada, offer corporate secrecy on par with Switzerland right here at home. Makes it easy for PAC meisters like Mr. Robinson to shuffle oodles of political cash with zero transparency and accountability.

  6. Thanks for this. Local politics have been seeing a very disturbing trend with the Republican Party having swung so far in the direction of corruption and devotion to profiteers rather than the public good. I think that trend really accelerated and went overboard with the Koch Brothers generating the Tea Party movement and starting their own party of money infused corruption that put Rick Scott in power as governor, and a whole army of smaller tyrants, trying to rule the government via money, for their own purposes. Local Republican leaders being caught and jailed is just evidence of the corruption that has occurred. There are others.

    It is refreshing to have seen Nancy Detert, Bill Galvano and Ray Pilon begin to restore some right thinking and honor to the GOP by breaking away from the corrupt mob and working to get healthcare to our neighbors who need it. We need more Republicans to break away from this trend of corruption. Righteous spirit is more powerful than money. The real media and the churches will not be bought and neither will the votes of an informed people. They will not vote against their best interests when they are aware of the truth.

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