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Nancy Smith

Does Attack on Tom Lee Have Senate Leadership Overtones?

July 18, 2012 - 6:00pm

A vicious attack mailer, an eyebrow-raiser, against former Florida Senate President Tom Lee hit mailboxes this week in Senate District 24, and among politicos in the state capital especially, it's still causing a stir.

The direct-mail piece -- described by Tampa-area blogger Peter Schorsch on his website SaintPetersblog.com as, The attack piece on Tom Lee that has everyone buzzin," juxtaposes Lee with sex-scandal-embroiled Hillsborough Property Tax Appraiser Rob Turner in an attempt to capitalize on the widely-reported misdeeds of the tax appraiser. The mailer uses Lee's marriages as ammunition to suggest a birds-of-a-feather comparison.


Said one Tallahassee political insider on Wednesday, I don't have a dog in the District 24 hunt, but this is one of the most underhanded and dirty hit mailers I've ever seen."

The mailer includes a reproduction of a fractured wedding photo, mentioning Lee's 2001 divorce, claiming he had an affair with a gaming industry lobbyist -- an allegation Lee has categorically denied.

"There is an understood rule in politics that families are off limits and the recent attacks on Republican Senate candidate Tom Lee in Hillsborough County have undoubtedly crossed that line," said RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry in a written statement on Tuesday.

Curry was also referring to a letter from lobbyist Marc Dunbar. Dunbar's clients include gaming interests, some of whom have a fractious history with Lee. The letter paints a picture of Lee as a "pro-gambling moderate" who befriends liberal Democrats.

The direct-mail piece is the latest example of how political committees are heating up targeted Senate races this election cycle, due to the enormity of their implications on the chamber's leadership. Republicans could see as many as 10 new senators added to their caucus, representing a large new voting bloc with the potential to determine the Senate leadership outcomes post-Don Gaetz and Andy Gardiner.

The Lee hit piece was produced by The American People Committee Inc., a Florida Committee of Continuous Existence (CCE), whose chairwoman is powerful Tallahassee lobbyist Kenya Cory. Of note, under Florida elections law, this type of advertising is allowed for Electioneering Communication Organizations (ECOs) but not for CCEs.

Said attorney Mark Herron, ethics and elections specialist with Messer, Caparello & Self PA in Tallahassee, "CCEs are prohibited from doing political advertising or electioneering. They can't do it."

Cory was unavailable Wednesday afternoon.

Examination of The American People Committees financial records revealed a link between the committee and state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who is currently in a contentious leadership race with Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart. The committee has made contributions to numerous candidates supported by Latvala as well as a $5,000 contribution to Latvalas leadership committee the Florida Leadership Fund.

Among Corys lobbying clients are daily newspapers, including the Daily Business Review out of Miami and the Jacksonville Financial News and Daily Record. Since The American People Committee was founded last August, newspaper-related companies have contributed $151,000 of its $188,000 total raised, with the bulk coming from ALM, a multistate publisher of daily business and legal newspapers, including Corys aforementioned clients.

ALM also contributed $90,600 to another committee chaired by Cory Keep the Public Noticed Coalition Committee Inc. whose stated purpose is to advocate for the continuation of taxpayer-funded advertising in daily newspapers as part of the Public Notice Law.

The financial disclosures of Keep the Public Noticed Coalition Committee also revealed a connection to Latvala and candidates he supports. Among Republican Senate candidates to whom the committee contributed the $500 maximum allowed by law were Latvala, Jim Frishe (SD 22), Mike Weinstein (SD 4), Greg Evers (SD 2) and Thad Altman (SD 24).

Reach Nancy Smith at nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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