In the last decade we have seen a profound transformation in local elections due to dark money. Tens of thousands in unidentifiable, unaccountable PAC (Political Action Committee) money has flowed into local elections. As one public official noted, a Sarasota school board campaign ten years ago cost about $10,000. Today, a Sarasota school board campaign can cost $150,000 to $200,000.
When it comes to dark PAC money in Sarasota/Manatee, there are relatively few managers. Eric Robinson is by far the leader in managing local dark money. With 30-40 political committees under his management, Mr. Robinson manages millions in political committee donations. As he has explained in the local press, donors to political committees “don’t want to be identified”
“If you’re looking to follow the money to individual donors, that’s not the way it works” Robinson told the Herald Tribune in 2013 when he was interviewed about his PAC management practices.
The Herald Tribune was looking into a PAC called “Manatee Against Taxation” which worked to defeat a 2013 Manatee County referendum on a half penny sales tax to fund indigent health care.
While Eric Robinson said he “had no dog in the fight”, he contributed $50,000 (through his accounting firm) to the Manatee Against Taxation PAC.
Mr. Robinson consistently portrays his PAC role as confined to accounting, that he is “just doing my job”.
As shown in the pdf flow chart above, Manatee Against Taxation paid Mr. Robinson’s firm $54,591.22 (47% of the PAC’s assets) for accounting services to the $115,000 PAC.
At the end of the day, Mr. Robinson was instrumental in funding the PAC and was paid an exorbitant amount for accounting services, all the while facilitating the anonymity of its donors. Just doing his job? Bookkeepers who fund their clients’ ventures are a rare breed. In any case, Robinson’s role was not confined to bookkeeping.
Who made the decisions on how to spend Manatee Against Taxation’s war chest? Mr. Robinson is listed as the PAC’s Chairperson, Treasurer and Registered Agent. He is doing much more than bookkeeping. He is on record as the person solely responsible for the PAC, responsible for all of the PAC’s decisions. These roles make him the PAC’s sole political operative, choosing the message and funding allocation. That’s the job, and that certainly means he has a dog in the fight. Our news media must make these and other dark money realities clear.