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Nancy Smith

Martin Commission Races: The Propaganda of Campaign Contributions

August 15, 2014 - 6:00pm

The Martin County Commission races, hotter than a cherry bomb in a coffee can, now move to money, and who's giving what to whom. The emphasis is on the who.

As expected, former Martin County Commissioner Maggy Hurchalla is riding shotgun for incumbents Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding.

Hurchalla fired off an email earlier in the week to her no-growth posse, urging them to spread the word on who the good guys are and who the bad guys are.

Writes Hurchalla, "Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding have consistently voted to protect the river. Opponents of Sarah Heard and Ed Fielding are supported by Lake Point and Florida Crystals. Since I'm in the middle of a lawsuit with them (Lake Point), I'm not posting this to everyone."

In other words, she's saying, so you do it for me.

Here comes the propaganda of candidate "support." Look for it coming to an email near you.

But you should know when you read it, Hurchalla is fibbing. On purpose. There's no other way to put it.

I have no idea what Lake Point is doing, but I know Florida Crystals didn't give Barbara Clowdus, Heard's District 4 opponent, or Stacey Hetherington, Fielding's opponent in District 2, one red cent. I know because I asked the company -- they were adamant they didn't -- and because I don't see a donation -- even a suspicious donation -- listed anywhere among the challengers' contributions. And because Clowdus told me in the early going she specifically kept sugar farmers out.

"I've not taken a dime of sugar money, or any other big developer money," she told me Friday, "although I'm being told every day that if I don't take it, I won't win ... I hope that's not true."

The tone of Hurchalla's email tells me she would have the voters of Martin County believe the little guys in this race are incumbents Fielding and Heard, a pure of word-and-deed pair who ... well ... have a mountain to climb to beat their Big Sugar-backed, Big Mining-backed opposition.

I don't think Hurchalla believes anybody will look that deeply into the Martin County supervisor of elections' candidates list. She knows residents will take her at her word.

Public opinion is important to Hurchalla while she fights the Lake Point lawsuit, so you can almost appreciate her strategy. She needs the majority re-elected, yes, but she has an agenda going on and it's separate from the election.

Which may explain why with her email she includes three newspaper stories meant to show how evil and scary and apt to support the bad guys Lake Point is.

As for Fielding and Heard getting their support from the little people -- "the residents," as former Martin County Commissioner Donna Melzer likes to call them -- please. The big checks, the $1,000 checks, come almost exclusively from the old faction on Jupiter Island, who pay to get their way. These old-money folks are as much a special interest group as any developer, any business organization in Martin County. Dig into the contributions of all candidates. See how many names and addresses you recognize.

It's interesting to note, though, that Jupiter Island is beginning to split -- some breaking allegiance with the traditional Nathaniel Reed coterie over the majority commissioners' reluctance to pass an airport customs facility (though they have since) and their "anti" position on dredging and beach renourishment. The Jupiter Island mayor is leading the charge.

Here's how the main County Commission candidates were faring as of Friday night. Decide for yourself who the big-money players are:

  • Heard -- Of nearly $63,000 raised overall, she has about $31,000 left to spend; Clowdus -- Of about $29,000 raised, she said she has about $3,000, even though the county website still has her at about $6,000 in the bank.
  • Fielding -- Of $40,000 to begin with, he has about $17,000 left; Hetherington -- Of $29,000 in all, she has about $4,000 left in the bank.

I admit, I haven't been following Fielding-Hetherington as closely as I have Heard-Clowdus.

In the Heard-Clowdus race, Barbara Clowdus knew almost every donor I asked her about. An exception was Peter Lawson-Johnston. Interestingly, Lawson-Johnson, a Guggenheim (finance) partner, apparently was looking to cover all bases. He gave money to both candidates -- $200 to Clowdus on July 23; but$300 to Heard on March 6 and $200 more to Heard on March 25.

Clowdus said she didn't knowStephen A. Orthwein, chairman of the Museum of Polo and Hall of Fame. He gave her $250 on July 22. "I had to Google his name. He apparently owns -- or at least, founded, doesn't mean he still owns it -- the Port Mayaca Polo Club in Okeechobee. I got a note from an engineer in Stuart suggesting I call him for a donation, but he'd already made the contribution by then."

Houston attorney Giles Kibbe gave Clowdus $1,000. "He's affiliated with The Floridien, an absolutely outstanding development that far exceeded comp plan requirements," she explained.

And how about Fernlea Nurseries in Ontario? Who are they for $1,000? "They own several nurseries in Martin County," Clowdus told me.

What about Burg and Company Inc.? Burg ponied up $1,000 to the Clowdus campaign on June 13. "He owns Sunlight Ranch in western Martin County," she replied, "a beautiful ranch on Indiantown Road. He's unhappy because of what he feels are arbitrary regulations, since the rules on one side of the highway are different than on the other side for the same piece of property, if my memory serves me correctly. His children were born and raised here, and he's concerned about their future, and that of his grandchildren."

Clowdus said, "Now that you bring him up, I'm sure he'll be considered a 'big developer.' He certainly owns enough land to be one, but he doesn't have any pending projects before the county, and he's not one of the challengers to the comp plan rewrites."

While Clowdus collected a majority of her checks from mostly small and medium-sized businesses, Heard -- as I said earlier -- raked in a large share of her money from Jupiter Islanders -- or residents in other Hobe Sound waterfront communities.

Heard also collected from a follow-the-leader group of no-growth believers who bonded in the 1990s, including Pauline Becker, $500; Marge Ketter, $100; and Tom Tomlinson, $50.

The Martin County power triumvirate put their money where they mouths are for Heard, too: $100 from Maggy Hurchalla; $950 from Donna Melzer; and $250 from Virginia Sherlock.

I looked, but didn't find on this report evidence of Waste Management bundling checks for Heard. It's something I told myself I'd look for ever since I read a story in the News on June 28, 2011, "Former Port St. Lucie company claims contributions to Treasure Coast politicians coerced'."

Testimony under oath in court records claims Heard took bundled campaign contributions raised by county contractor Waste Management during her 2010 campaign.

She first voted early in her commission career to give the companya $15 million, no-bid, exclusive franchise tocollect garbage through all of the county. Then, asWaste Management came before the commission a number of times over the years, records show Heard supported every rate increase requested.

During a court case in 2011, now-defunct SST Tire of Stuart allegedthat Waste Management "cultivate(d) a long-standing practice of discreet and under-the-tablecorruption wherein countless public officials are groomed and influenced so that Waste Management ... secure(s)lucrative waste disposal contracts."

According to court records, Waste Management vendors -- of which SST Tire was one -- were "told in no uncertain terms that they either pay political campaigncontributions to Waste Management Inc.'s chosen slate of public officials, or face business termination."

SST said it had no clients besides Waste Management and was coerced into making$500 campaign contributions virtually to every council person in Port St. Lucie and every commissioner in Martin County.

On May 4, 2010, Martin County commissioners approved the transfer of the contract to collect trash in thewestern part of the county from the Indiantown Co. to Waste Management.Heard said at the time the vote was not influenced by Waste Management's contributions to commissioners and noted thatwestern Martin County customers "got lower rates, recycling and better service. It was the right decision."

Maybe it was the right decision. But you'll forgive me this, I hope: With or without Heard, as long as Waste Management has business before the Board of County Commissioners, I'm going to look at the money and look for connections. Makes me wonder now how Lake Point got to be a bad guy, yet Waste Management is rolling fat and happy.

Reach Nancy Smith at or at 228-282-2423. Twitter: @NancyLBSmith

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