Political consultant Doug Guetzloe is in the news this week after being sentenced to 15 months in federal prison Monday for not filing his tax returns. But he has long been a newsmaker and figure of controversy. His conservative activism takes many forms in Central Florida, where he's based, and in state and national issues. He founded Ax the Tax, a Florida anti-tax group, in 1982, and is a radio talk-show host and media maven. (Last month he was one of the Sayfie Review's "Florida Gurus.")
A graduate of Florida State University, Guetzloe was the university's student body president. His vice president: former Gov. Charlie Crist, of whom Guetzloe said, "Having Charlie Crist as my vice president was like a day with sunshine. As my vice president, he was pretty much like he was as governor: upbeat, positive and a valuable member of the team. Back then he wore a bushy mustache and was more husky, so he presented a different image, this was before he became a swimmer."
In his tax case this week, prosecutors said Guetzloe failed to file returns on almost $187,000 in income in 2005, and more than $188,000 in 2006. Last year he served most of a 60-day jail sentence after being convicted of an election law violation involving a campaign flier that lacked a required disclaimer.
The News Service of Florida had five questions for Guetzloe:
Q: In your words, what are you going to prison for?
GUETZLOE: The two misdemeanor charges against me are for 'failure to file' two tax returns in a timely manner. Quite frankly, I had no idea that you could be charged criminally for failing to file a tax return, and my attorney had advised me that I had three years to file returns before it became a problem. Even though nearly 40 percent of Americans do not file their returns on time, the [Internal Revenue Service] can elect to go after the ones they want. In my case, my notoriety as founder and chairman of Ax the Tax attracted the investigation, which lasted for over four years.
The two charges are misdemeanors, and, as such, normally individuals are not sentenced to jail for them on a first-time basis. In my case, a deliberate exception was made. It was my mistake and a costly one at that. We plan to appeal the verdict and the sentence, and hopefully there will be a stay on the sentence while the appeal is litigated. Even though a great many bureaucrats and pro-tax liberals want me off the streets, it may not be as fast as they had envisioned.
Q: Why have you waited so long to file your taxes is it for political or financial reasons?
GUETZLOE: I had always been a 'late' filer. My taxes are extremely complicated, far too complicated for me to produce a return, so I have always relied on tax preparers. The two years in question, 2005 and 2006, were very difficult years for me personally due to being diagnosed and treated for two types of cancer, prostate and melanoma, as well as a pretty well-documented theft of most of my records from a storage unit by a local reporter. Those records have still not been returned. The point is that while I have been 'late' filing my tax returns, I've always paid my tax obligation.
The distinction needs to be made between not 'filing' the tax return and not 'paying' taxes. I was not charged with not paying taxes -- only with not 'filing' the paperwork.
Q: You're both a tea partier and a politically savvy insider. Was the tea partys success in 2010 a flash in the pan, or will they maintain it how and for how long?
GUETZLOE: 2010 was a flash in the pan for the tea party. We are now witnessing the slow demise of the various unaffiliated and loosely organized 'tea party' groups. Those individuals that were attracted to the rhetoric of the tea party will still be involved, but in a less active manner. Politics tends to burn people out, and most of the self-proclaimed tea party leaders were new to the political process and naive as to the potential opportunities. Many of them sought instant political success and had no idea that political movements like Ax the Tax take decades to win battle after battle. 2012 will probably see the last gasp of the nascent movement.
Q: Youve said the tea party helped elect Rick Scott. Do you think hes governing by tea party beliefs? Are you satisfied with his performance?
GUETZLOE: Rick Scott dropped any pretense to tea party values within months of taking office. His dalliance with CSX and his approval of the SunRail boondoggle was the final straw. Retaining political insiders like Steve McNamara and his successor Adam Hollingsworth have alienated Scott from those that put him in office. Scott has ignored the people and he's a one-termer because of it.
We can only hope that a qualified GOP conservative will be able to challenge him in the primary lest a Democrat defeat him in the 2014 general election. Scott's running behind everyone mentioned in state polling. I hope he enjoyed his 30 days as an outsider because his remaining time as a Tallahassee insider is short-lived.
Q: Who do you think will prevail in court in the Jim Greer case?
GUETZLOE: Jim Greer did exactly what the party leadership wanted him to do at all times. Greer is clearly a scapegoat with the current prosecution. I was the first GOP leader to call for a full audit and Greer's resignation, and I got removed from my party position because of that demand. Now everyone in the party puts down Greer and Crist, yet when they were riding high and the party coffers were flush, these same individuals were hailing Greer and Crist as returning conquering heroes.
Neither Crist nor Greer changed their positions or personas -- those around them saw political opportunity to throw them both under the bus and they took advantage of that political anomaly. Charges will either be dismissed at the last moment or the judge/jury will find Greer not guilty.