State Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, is calling ethics charges filed against her with the Florida Elections Commission “completely and entirely unfounded.”
Burgin, who is running for the state Senate District 24 seat now held by Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, spent the day walking door to door, determined to continue her campaign for the Senate despite the complaint filed against her by Valrico attorney Paul Phillips.
Phillips’ 13-page complaint, filed July 26, accuses Burgin of violating multiple election laws related to campaign mailers sent to East Hillsborough County residents making various accusations against her opponent, former Senate President Tom Lee, R-Brandon.
The mailers were distributed by a Tallahassee political group called The American People Committee. Among other things, they compare Lee to Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Rob Turner, who has admitted sending pornographic emails to a female co-worker, question his morality and accuse him of being a “puppet” of the gambling lobby.
Phillips’ complaint accuses Burgin of raising funds for the committee and failing to file a statement of solicitation related to those fundraising efforts. He also charges Burgin with violating election laws by failing to properly disclose contributions to The American People Committee.
Burgin reiterated today that she has no association with The American People Committee and had no prior knowledge of the mailers.
She said she believes the mailers are being used against her by moderate Republicans in Tallahassee intent on keeping her conservative views out of the Senate.
“They don’t want true conservatives,” she said. “Ronda (Storms) was very opinionated and they don’t want someone who will speak on behalf of the people. They want Tallahassee insiders.”
Burgin said she wasn’t surprised to learn about the complaint.
“He (Paul Phillips) ran against me for state rep. and has had it out for me ever since,” she said.
Phillips did not return calls.
Lee, the target of the negative mailers, said he’s appalled by the personal attacks and negativity surrounding the Senate campaign.
“I’ve been around politics a long time and have never seen such personal attacks or gross distortion of a candidate’s record. People who have been in politics 30 years tell me they’ve never seen anything like it. It’s a pretty toxic political environment,” he said.
“When you have a resume, when you have a record of public service, you should run on that record,” said Lee. “If you don’t have a record you’re willing to run on then you need to think twice about being a candidate. But, sometimes, if you can’t sell yourself, your only other option is to make the other person seem unacceptable.”
Lee noted that one of the mailers link him to the gambling lobby, which he said is ludicrous. While in the Senate, he said he led an investigation against the gambling lobby.
“It turns out I’m the only candidate in the race not accepting gambling money,” said Lee. “My opponent has accepted donations from two organizations.”
As a state senator, Lee said he sponsored lobbying reforms that, among other things, regulate how Committees of Continuous Existence and Electioneering Communications Organizations can spend donations.
He said The American People Committee is a CCO and has, thus, violated state election laws by funding and distributing the mailers.
“It is clear laws have been broken. And if it weren’t for the reforms I put in place, you wouldn’t be able to follow this money. It was just a matter of time before someone filed an ethics complaint,” he said.
If election laws have been violated, Burgin said it wasn’t her doing.
“I do not have any affiliation with them,” she said. “I’m not personally associated with the organization.”
That’s to be seen, said Lee. He said Internet café lobbyist David Ramba claims Burgin told him to donate money to The American People Committee, a claim Burgin denies.
“If Dave Ramba is even half right and Rachel has solicited money from his organization to go to The American People Committee, then she’s violated law,” Lee said. “I feel somewhat vindicated that her association with this negativity has been exposed. When people distort your record, you’ve got to set it straight.”
Burgin said she refuses to allow the charges against her to disrupt her campaign during the final 2 ½ weeks before the Aug. 14 primary.
“Our campaign has been working very hard and talking to voters,” she said. “There are people out there hurting more than ever before and that’s where I want to concentrate my energy. If this is the direction they want to campaign, fine, but I did not do anything wrong. It’s all about playing politics instead of helping these people. It’s really frustrating for me.”