The impact of dark money has been seen in our County and School Board races, but not nearly as much in the Sarasota City Commission races. Martin Hyde is running for one of the two “At Large” Commission seats, and he personally donated $4,000 to the political action committee (PAC) called “Making a Better Tomorrow”. Having researched Sarasota PACs for a number of years now, It’s the first time I’ve seen a candidate for a City or County Commission seat make such a donation. The PAC which Hyde chose to fund includes $10,000 from Carlos Beruff’s company, as well as $20,000 from Benderson corporations. What does such a donation say about Hyde’s political alliances?
Influencing County Commission decisions through campaign and PAC donations has been a profitable investment for Beruff and Benderson. Beruff was able to get approval for homes on acreage previously denied for residential development due to the presence of two unlined landfills. One year after the rejection of residential development alongside the old Foxfire landfills, Beruff bought the land and the County Commission put aside any concerns about contamination and approved construction of 200 homes on the same property that was too risky to develop just one year before.
Benderson’s campaign and PAC donation have resulted in numerous benefits, including sweet pricing on 42 acres of public land just east of I75. That sale passed by a 3-2 County Commission vote, with the dissenting Commissioners citing the proposed use (a truck depot) and reduced price ($2-3 million below market value) for their denial.
Let’s not forget how having a former County Commissioner lobby the state for money has taken the place of the private fundraising promised by Benderson for the rowing park.
A few years ago Benderson Development negotiated a deal to purchase 11 acres at the NE corner of Beneva and Fruitville with the intention of building a new shopping center. That location is City park land, home to many mature oak trees, and across the street from a struggling shopping center. Residents protested the sale of City park land, and the deal was quashed. How would a candidate who is aligned with Benderson through a political PAC look upon the deal?
During a recent radio interview I asked Mr. Hyde about his PAC donation. What should voters make of it? Would he be a Benderson/Beruff lapdog?
Hyde was offended by the question, and went on to say he didn’t know how PACs work, that he donated to the PAC so he could get a mailer out identifying him as a Republican in the non-partisan race.
Antunes: But you had choices. You didn’t have to give that money there.
Hyde: No I haven’t got a choice. I don’t know anything about PACs
Hyde: I don’t know anything about that sort of stuff.
Antunes: Then why would you…
Hyde: I wanted to give money to get a mailer to go out.
Antunes: So you don’t know anything about it and you gave the money
Hyde: No I don’t know who is involved in any these things. They gave me the name of someone…
And there’s the rub. What will Mr. Hyde choose to do when “they” ask for a favor?
Big donor developers no doubt have their plans for our City. The Sarasota City Commission has eluded capture by the handful of big donor developers who hold tremendous sway over the County Commission. The dead horse which is constantly being revived by these Bendersonville politicos – an elected strong mayor in the City of Sarasota – may be in play here. City voters have rejected a strong mayor three times. The most recent boss mayor effort failed because organizers couldn’t get enough signatures to put the issue on the ballot. An elected mayor agenda would certainly explain why a few vocal democrats are making noise about a faux split in their party to hurt Ahearn-Koch, who supports the current Commission form of City government. Hyde’s mischaracterization of the City’s March elections as “voter suppression” is straight out of previous Bendersonville politico “strong mayor” talking points. We should all be on alert to Hyde’s mischaracterized conflation of a real problem – voter suppression – with elections which happen to occur in March rather than November. If City elections take place in November, at the end of a long ballot, how much easier will it be for PAC players like Hyde to buy influence in the City of Sarasota? Finally, Hyde makes it clear he intended to skirt the City’s non-partisan election rules by having his PAC friends send out a party mailer using Hyde’s money. Hyde’s dark money PAC activity is a clear red flag for City voters.
Early voting in the City take place now through Saturday, May 6th, from 8:30 am to 4:30 pm daily at the Terrace Building, 2001 Adams Lane in Sarasota. Election day is May 9th, when you can go to your precinct polling place until 7 pm.
Jennifer Ahearn-Koch and Hagen Brody both have a record of public service and deserve our enthusiastic support. Get out and vote!!
Interview Video, The Detail, WSRQ radio, April 14, 2017 aired