Okaloosa commission race goes negative with mailer, robocalls

Published: Tuesday, August 5, 2014 at 01:19 PM.

Two Tallahassee-based entities are targeting incumbent District 4 County Commissioner Don Amunds in political mailings and so-called robo calls. The ads label Amunds a “double dipping millionaire” with ties to corrupt former Sheriff Charlie Morris and former Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council director Mark Bellinger. Amunds termed the allegations “misleading half truths.”

A group called the Small Business Advocacy Council paid for the mailing. The Main Street Leadership Council provided the robo calls. Michael Fischer, who in 2010 served as Rep. Matt Gaetz’s campaign treasurer, chairs both political action committees. Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, acknowledged donating money to the Small Business Advocacy Council and confirmed that Fischer was “responsible for the content” of the mailing and robo call.

Gaetz — who has endorsed Amunds’ opponent, Trey Goodwin, a former Fort Walton Beach city councilman, in the District 4 race — has donated $20,400 to the Small Business Advocacy Council since 2011. His PACs contributed just $1,000 to the Main Street Leadership Council, according to Florida Division of Elections records. The organization received $65,000 from the Committee for a Conservative House, chaired by state House Speaker Will Weatherford. Goodwin and Amunds are Republicans, as is Henry Kelley, the third candidate in the race.

Goodwin claimed he knew nothing of the negative PAC ads until a mailer arrived at his home.

Amunds noted that both of his opponents in the District 4 race have the backing of state lawmakers. Sen. Greg Evers has used his own PAC to contribute to Kelley’s campaign. Kelley, in turn, pointed out that Amunds and Goodwin have received plenty of money from local special interest groups, including $5,000 each from companies controlled by developer Peter Bos.

While state politicians are employing legal committee-based fundraising methods, Dan Krassner, executive director of the nonpartisan government watchdog group Integrity Florida, said committees and political parties often transfer funds to each other, which makes it difficult to trace the exact donor.

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