Updated at the end of the Post
Florida Red & Blue, the group behind the SayNo2 Campaign, has filed a complaint with the Florida Election Commission asking for an investigation of Florida Amendment 2 sponsor Florida4Marriage.org. They say the group has avoided disclosing donations, incorrectly informed voters of the source of advertising funding, and filed false or inaccurate campaign reports. They also say Florida4Marriage is improperly running television ads ahead of the Nov. 4 election. Florida Red & Blue has also requested criminal investigations by State Attorneys in jurisdictions where legal violations may have occurred.
Florida Red & Blue says that ads being run by the Florida4Marriage are actually being paid for by Florida Family Action- a separate, non-for-profit organization- to avoid disclosing the names of political donors. There is also a laundry list of apparent illegal activities by the supporters of Amendment 2.
Much, much more after the jump...
The Case Against Florida4Marriage
In a press release, Florida Red & Blue lays out its case against the Amendment backers:
According to the complaint filed by Florida Red & Blue (FR&B) Chairman Jon Kislak, Amendment 2 sponsors Florida4Marriage are intentionally engaged in a scheme to avoid disclosing political donations, fraudulently informing voters of the sources of advertising, failing to register or file required reports and filing false or inaccurate campaign reports.
Last week, Florida4Marriage Chairman John Stemberger announced his campaign was launching a TV ad campaign. Those ads, records show, have been paid for not by the Florida4Marraige campaign but by Florida Family Action - a separate, non-for-profit corporation. Florida Family Action, in apparent violation of state law, does not disclose its donors or expenditures.
Florida Red & Blue's complaint demonstrates this attempt to conceal donors and improperly influence the election is intentional. A confidential September memo by Stemberger obtained by Florida Red & Blue requests support for Florida Family Action over Florida4Marriage in part because donations are "Confidential."
Amendment 2 sponsors are today running TV ads in Orlando and Tampa. These ads, funded with $350,000 from secret donors, also appear to illegally mislead voters by including notice that the ads are paid for by "Florida4Marriage.org" when they were paid for by another entity. Media outlets in these markets report ad buys from Florida4Marriage.org when it appears funding actually came from the secret Florida Family Action.
Because of the ads and the attempt to shield donors from disclosure, Florida Red & Blue also today requested criminal investigations by State Attorneys in jurisdictions where legal violations may have occurred - Leon, Orange, Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties.
A review of Florida4Marriage.org campaign financing reports since 2005 show that Florida Family Action, Inc. paid for $775,828 in in-kind campaign expenses to date. All of that money appears to have been purposefully funneled through the non-profit to skirt campaign finance reporting laws.
The Email Proof of Money Funneling
The proof of the illegal activity comes in part from a confidential email Florida Red & Blue obtained that is authored by John Stemberger, Chair of Florida4Marriage.org, which states:
To support efforts for the Florida Marriage Protection Amendment, contributions can be made to any of these 3 organizations below. They are listed in the order of preference on which organizations we would like to see the gifts go to, but we can take contributions made payable to any three of these groups to further the cause:
Florida Family Action
501(c)(4) Lobbying Organization under the IRS code
Gifts ARE NOT tax deductible
EIN # 3311008736
Confidential Gift with no public disclosure
Political Committee under Florida Law
Public Campaign Contribution
Gifts ARE NOT tax deductible
Gifts ARE publicly reported
Florida Family Policy Council
501(c)(3) non profit educational organization under the IRS code
Gifts ARE tax deductible
EIN # 522436800
Confidential Gift with no public disclosure but gifts are strictly limited to educational efforts, voter registration and pastors conferences.
There are no legal amount limitations on gifts made to any of the above organizations and either individual or corporate checks can be accepted to all 3 of these organizations.
All gifts can be mailed to this address:
4853 South Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL 32806 Phone 407-251-1957
This email shows an obvious attempt to funnel funds through the non-profit organization, where the donations would be confidential. Even more damning is the fact that Florida Family Action was incorporated by John Stemberger in January, 2005. At the same time, Florida4Marriage.org political committee was formed by none other than - you guessed it - John Stemberger.
A Pattern of Deception
This latest revelation of illegal activity comes on the heels of growing questions around the Florida4Marriage Campaign, including using photoshop ads from other campaigns (which may also be a way of skirting campaign reporting laws) and sending out false press releases with inaccurate numbers of attendees for events.
Derek Newton, Florida Red & Blue campaign manager, had this to say:
I understand why the sponsors of Amendment 2 want to help their donors hide in the shadows. But the law in Florida is clear - you can't do that. If people want to spend that kind of money to take away existing benefits from Floridians, voters have a right to know who's behind it. It's the reason we have election laws.
The actions taken today by Florida Red & Blue do not address the content of Florida4Marriage's advertising - which is flatly false. The ads in question incorrectly say Amendment 2 does "one thing" when the amendment actually threatens existing right and benefits and would block the state from recognizing anything that is "treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof."
First the sponsors of this amendment try to mislead the public by claiming the amendment will not take away existing benefits. But now they have crossed the line between bending reality and breaking the law. Faced with falling support in the polls, Florida4Marriage has resorted to intentionally ignoring campaign finance laws in a desperate last ditch effort to steal the election.
These kind of blatant lies and illegal activities shine a light on the false statements the Florida4Marriage campaign is built on. Groups and experts around the state have come out and said that the deceptive language of the amendment, specifically the phrase "substantial equivalent thereof", would strip away domestic partnership rights and benefits.
It seems the campaign pushing Amendment 2 is being shown on all fronts for what it truly is: a dishonest and deceptive campaign based on lies.
John Stemberger told the Florida-Times Union Newspaper:
Stemberger said having donors contribute to the lobbying group is proper and understandable - especially considering past backlash against donors like Amway Corp. founder Richard DeVos, a major donor.
"Some people want to remain anonymous. It's because of the intimidation of our opponents."
They "want to remain anonymous" because of backlash?? That's not how Florida election and campaign finance laws work, Stemberger.
I do believe he just admitted to purposefully hiding donors and skirting reporting laws...