The privately funded Forward Manatee campaign received $11,970 in campaign contributions during the first week of October, a campaign finance report released Friday morning showed.
Of those funds, $10,000 came from the Political Action Committee of the National Association of Realtors (better known as “RPAC”), and another $1,000 from the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, a non-profit 501(c)(6) organization that acts much like a chamber of commerce.
Forward Manatee is a privately funded Manatee County political committee advocating in favor of passage of both the 0.5% infrastructure sales tax and the 0.5% school board sales tax that appear on the November ballot of Manatee county voters.
The RPAC website says they have “promoted the election of pro-REALTOR® candidates across the United States” since 1969, but makes no mention of promoting referendum issues such as the two local sales taxes now before the Manatee county voters.
However, the Orlando-based RPAC also contributed $20,000 to a PAC supporting passage of the Greenlight Pinellas 1% transit tax in Pinellas County in 2014, which was another local sales tax effort. That measured was defeated with 62% “NO” at the polls, despite an additional $245,000 direct contribution from the Chicago-based National Association of Realtors.
Through October 7th, Forward Manatee raised a total of $305,665, but only spent 35% ($107,852) of those funds. 89% of its spending has been with VancoreJones, a Tallahassee-based communications company. According to the campaign finance reports, $70,000 is for “TV ads”.
VancoreJones claims on its website that it has “direct extensive experience in changing – or harnessing – public opinion to meet our clients’ needs.”
“We have committed $300,000 in spending”, said Chuck Slater, co-chair of Forward Manatee to the Guardian. “I believe the TV ads are running as we speak, we have sent one mailer to voters, and will send another one next week.”
“We conducted a poll last week, and will conduct another one next week”, said Slater. When asked if Forward Manatee is making the poll results public, Slater said “not yet, but the results are very positive.”
“I’m not a developer, I am doing this for the good of Manatee County”, said Slater, who asked the reporter “what is the purpose of your publication”.
Slater said that he’s a 13-year resident of Manatee County, a retired insurance executive, and that his efforts to pass the ballot measures result from his participation in the Citizens Financial Structure Advisory Board (CFSAB).
The CSFAB was an advisory committee whose members were all appointed by the Manatee County commission as a whole, or by individual commissioners. In its final report in April, the CFSAB recommended implementation of the infrastructure sales tax, saying that the tax is:
“….the best way to ensure a sustainable budget future for the County. The Committee is quick to say that this recommendation is not meant to be at the exclusion of the other revenue alternatives presented, some of which may also be useful and which may be tailored to specific circumstances.”
“The CSFAB’s report was clear: tax hikes, tax hikes and then some more tax hikes”, said Linda Neely, spokesperson for the No Sales Tax Hikes, a grassroots group opposed to the referendum measure. “The purpose of the CFSAB was just to provide political cover for the politicians who are always seek to raise our taxes”, said Neely. “We need sound fiscal management, not tax hikes.”
Neely has sent out a series of e-mail, which have been posted on the group’s Facebook page. When asked about how her group is funding its efforts, Neely said “we will likely spend less than $500 total on our campaign efforts. We are asking people to please vote no on both sales tax hikes.”
Should both the infrastructure and school board sales tax measures pass, the sales tax rate in the county will go up 0.5%. Should both fail, the sales tax rate will go down by 0.5%.
The Forward Manatee website makes this claim:
“State law requires that money generated from a local option sales tax can only be used for projects approved by voters, which means the money from the local schools surtax will only be used for schools and the city and county government infrastructure sales tax will only be used for roads and public safety.”
Slater could not immediately cite what state law they are referring to, and we agreed to leave that to others in their group to answer via e-mail. We will publish their response when we receive it.
Forward Manatee is what is popularly known as a PAC (Political Action Committee), and campaign finance reports from candidates and committees alike are available on the website of the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office. Enter “1502” as the “ID #” to find the campaign finance records discussed in this article. The vast majority of donations have come from developers and businesses that depend on them, with 62% of the donation being $10,000 and up in size.
The Guardian will use this opportunity to remind all Florida residents that the voter registration deadline has been extended until Tuesday, October 18th. The Manatee County Supervisor of Elections office is always ready to assist you in getting registered to vote.
Manatee County has held five “information meetings” so far, with two more to go. The meetings have been very lightly attended, with 3-4 citizens at each meeting. Which side that is a good sign for remains to be seen. Manatee County spokesman Nick Azzara has given conflicting statements, even on the same day, about how solid the “projects list” that has been provided to voters is.
As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.