Dark Money Sarasota Manatee II: Who is Trying to Buy Your Vote?

Do you know who is trying to buy your vote?

 

In the weeks before local elections, voters’ mailboxes are stuffed with giant postcards, supporting & attacking candidates and sometimes issues, like the indigent health care sales tax up for a vote in Manatee County’s 2013 elections.  Glossy mailers come from candidate campaigns or political committees.  Most of the committees have generic names like Citizens Against Taxation, Citizens Have Rights in Sarasota, Manatee for Common Cents – names which give no indication who is funding the mailing and what their real agenda may be.  And that’s the point.  Many political committee donors don’t want you to know who they are. As one PAC manager says, donors want “plausible deniability”.

 

There are a number of ways that PAC donors can keep their identities completely or partially hidden.  Today’s post highlights two methods: making political committee donations through an untraceable corporation, and transferring donations from one PAC to another.

 

In the last Dark Money Sarasota Manatee post, I focused on the funding for Manatee Against Taxation, a PAC which sent messaging out opposing a sales tax to fund indigent health care.  Manatee Against Taxation had two funding sources: Robinson Hanks Accounting ($50,000) and the Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors ($65,000).

 

Robinson Hanks Accounting is the accounting firm of Eric Robinson, a prolific PAC manager who manages millions in political dark money.  Fifty PACs on the state website list Eric Robinson as their treasurer, chair or registered agent.  Eric is the husband of Sarasota County Commissioner Christine Robinson.  He recently secured an open seat on the Sarasota County School Board; the other two candidates who filed to run against him both withdrew their candidacy.  One candidate withdrew four hours before the June 24, 2016 noon filing deadline.

 

The Robinson Hanks 50K donation to Manatee Against Taxation took place on June 5, 2013.

 

How about the other donor, the Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors?  Where did the CPFS money come from?

Committee to Protect Florida's Seniors

You can see a number of donors to the Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors which are identified – we’ll talk about them later.  The largest donor is another political committee – Veterans for Conservative Principles.

The Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors (CPFS) received donations from Veterans for Conservative Principles (VCP) totalling $66,000,.  CPFS  then donated $65,000 to Manatee Against Taxation.  So where did VCP get that money?

  1. On June 5th, 12th and 17th in 2013, Veterans for Conservative Principles (VCP) received $35,000, $15,000 and $16,000 (respectively), a total of $66,000, from an entity called Greenpoint Investors, LLC.
  2. On June 12th, VCP donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors (CPFS).  On June 24th, VCP donated $16,000 to CPFS, bringing their CPFS donation total to $66,000.
  3. On June 30th, Manatee Against Taxation received $65,000 from CPFS.

 

According to a July 2013 article in the Sarasota Herald Tribune, Greenpoint Investors was not registered with the state Division of Corporations (there is still no record of them in Florida), and no one involved would say who was behind Greenpoint Investors.  The Greenpoint Investors address was listed on VCP’s financials as 200 South Orange Ave., where Sarasota’s Williams Parker law firm is located.  Apparently it is permissible for a company with no apparent legal status to donate to political committees in Florida.   Filing errors may be possible, but there doesn’t seem to be any requirement to verify that PAC donations are received from accurately documented sources.  We have an institutionally corrupt local political finance system in place.

 

UPDATE: After additional research, I found a Greenpoint Investors LLC registered in Delaware on May 28, 2013.  Of course it is not associated with a human being:

Greenpoint Investors, LLC

 

Corporate entities and addresses associated with Pat Neal, Randy Benderson and Carlos Beruff also donated to the Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors.  Why would these developers oppose an indigent health care sales tax?  Some believe that these developers are against any tax which eats away at their ability to get local government to reduce or eliminate impact fees and other assessments to developers for infrastructure (like roads).  Perhaps the donors hiding behind Greenpoint Investors feel the same way.

 

Donations totalling $150,000, destined to influence local elections, flowed through the Committee to Protect Florida’s Seniors.  The CPFS dark money shuffled from one PAC to another, and some of it originated with the untraceable Greenpoint Investors at 200 S. Orange Avenue in Sarasota.

 

By the way, remember that $50,000 donated by Robinson Hanks Accounting to Manatee Against Taxation on June 5, 2013?  On July 3, 2013, Manatee Against Taxation turned around and paid Robinson Hanks $50,000 for accounting services.  It’s interesting that a political committee required accounting services valued at 43% of its total 115K in assets, and remarkable when a company can make a 50K political committee donation and then one month later charge the same political committee an exorbitant 50K accounting fee, recouping its original donation.   Even more remarkable how the PACs treasurer, chair and registered agent are one and the same – Mr. Robinson.   Now Sarasota has Mr. Robinson’s accounting prowess at the helm on the Sarasota School Board.

 

You, the voter in Sarasota Manatee, are barraged by dark money messaging.  What’s a voter to do?  Take a close look at who is stuffing your mailbox.  And if you aren’t voting in local races, please register and support the candidates who will actually work for the public, not dark money special interests.

 

Stay tuned for more.

 

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