In June of 2015, the national Sierra Club agreed with the Florida Elections Commission that one of its local clubs had violated Florida law in 2014. Specifically, the Suncoast Sierra Club had violated Florida Statutes 106.071(2), a campaign finance law which mandates disclaimers on paid political advertisements.
Notably, that 2015 consent order was signed by Michael Brune, the executive director of the national Sierra Club in San Francisco. The check for the $250 fine also came from national headquarters, and was signed by Brune.
Now they Suncoast Sierra Club (SSC) have violated the exact same statute again. An “outing” of SSC’s unlawful action is therefore in order.
In their latest newsletter, the club endorses the Penny for Pinellas Tax and a slate of City of St. Pete candidates, including St. Pete mayor Rick Kriseman. Although the newsletter does contain a disclaimer at the bottom of the page, it’s not the disclaimer mandated by law.
The missing elements are the words “political advertisement”, and that the SSC’s efforts are “independently of any (candidate or committee) .” SSC’s failure to state that their endorsements are being made “independently” of those people and causes endorsed raises the question of whether coordination did in fact take place. Coordination would be a violation of Florida Law and subject to a fine not to exceed $1,000 for each instance.
Furthermore, their disclaimer says “Paid for and approved by the Florida Sierra Cub PAC, 1990 Central Ave, St Petersburg, FL”. There is no such entity (“Florida Sierra Cub PAC”) registered with the Florida Division of Elections.
Paragraph 14 in the consent order the national Sierra Club signed required them to “carefully review Chapter 106, Florida Statutes, and avoid any future violation of the chapter.” The maximum fine the Florida Elections Commission can levy is $1,000 per violation, even for repeated or wilful violation.
The Commission is required to consider “aggravating circumstances”, including “any previous history of similar acts or omissions.” Given the SSC’s previous violation, the fine should be higher for this second offense.
Immediately after the 2016 presidential election, the national Sierra Club joined the loosely organized “resist movement”, a movement which is determined to resist the actions of President Trump. The Sierra Club now seems equally determined to resist compliance with Florida campaign finance laws.
The Guardian “outed” the SSC twice last year: on their silence on St. Pete sewage spills after receiving grant money, and also on their hypocritical and carbon-rich “Hands Across the Sand” carbon protest event. If they follow the law and abandon hypocrisy, the Guardian will never have grounds for outing them again.
As we have done in the past, we reached out to several SSC board members and staff with questions and an opportunity to provide an explanation. As always, no answer was received. Time will tell if the top people in the Sierra Club will once again get directly involved in addressing violation of Florida law, and whether they will make sure that their local club complies with Florida law going forward.
As always….the Guardian reports and our readers decide. Like our Facebook page to find out when we publish new stories.