Manatee Supervisor of Elections sits on campaign finance report for two days

The final  treasurer’s report from the “Forward Manatee” political committee was filed electronically with Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett at 2:10 P.M. on Thursday. Forward Manatee’s filing came well ahead of the Friday midnight reporting deadline. Yet on Saturday morning, the data from this report did not appear in a search of financial records performed on Bennett’s website.

Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett
Manatee County Supervisor of Elections Michael Bennett

Our search at 5:45 A.M. on Saturday morning, two days after the report had been filed, found no data from the so-called G7 report. This report was the 12th and final campaign finance report that Forward Manatee was required to file in accordance with requirements set by the state.

Forward Manatee raised $327,390, mostly in large donations from developers and associated business, and advocates in favor of two sales tax referenda that are on the ballots of all Manatee County voters.

Reports are reviewed by Supervisor of Elections (SoE) staff before being released on-line. Deputy supervisor Sharon Stief responded within the hour to our 6. A.M. e-mail on Saturday morning and said “Forward Manatee’s G7 report has been posted to our website.” However, she did not acknowledge that the report had in fact not been available for over 40 hours after being filed, and was posted as a result of our inquiry.

Candidates and committees are required to submit campaign finance reports with increasing frequency as an election approached. We could find no requirements on how quickly the SoE must release the reports or the data in the reports, but not releasing it quickly makes the increased frequency filing deadlines meaningless.

not_my_problemLast month, Bennett told the Bradenton Herald that it was “unclear where and how” a typo in a sales tax ballot question arose.  The school board ballot question appears on the ballots of all Manatee County voters in this election. The Guardian first discovered the error and asked Bennett and his staff how it arose, but his agency did not answer.

That is when we tipped off the Bradenton Herald about the error – Bennett answered the same question we had asked when the Herald reporter asked it. The reporter did not probe Bennett’s answer to see if it was reasonable.

Bennett’s answer suggests that has no interest in disclosing the “where and how” the ballot question error arose, as he could easily find out if he wanted to. Bennett, a former 12-year state lawmaker, was elected in a landslide in 2012 and faced no opposition for re-election this year.

We would have reached out to Bennett or his office with questions about this matter, but they have not responded to requests for comments in the past. As per our policy, we then do not seek comment again. However, we will update this article should his agency have any comments for publication.

“I will always err on the side of the voters”,  Bennett claimed in August. “I will continue to err on the side of the voters.” As always, the Guardian reports and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.



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