Panel says pig proposal backers broke election lawBy LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- Supporters of a proposed constitutional amendment to protect pregnant pigs have been charged with 210 counts of violating Florida elections laws.
The Florida Elections Commission contends that Farm Sanctuary Inc. and its president collected thousands of dollars in donations and funneled them to the amendment campaign, violating a law that requires that the names of all contributors be disclosed.
Farm Sanctuary is a charitable animal protection group based in California and New York that has given more than $465,000 to the Florida campaign.
The Florida group, Floridians for Humane Farms, is headed by Pam Huizenga, daughter of billionaire businessman Wayne Huizenga of Fort Lauderdale. It has reported raising more than $1.5-million.
The elections complaint was filed against Farm Sanctuary by David Martosko of the Center for Consumer Freedom in Washington. In a letter to the St. Petersburg Times this week, Martosko said the pig amendment was financed by donations from people in all 50 states, who were promised a tax deduction by Farm Sanctuary. The center says it is supported by restaurant operators and food and beverage companies.
Donations to Farm Sanctuary are tax-deductible, but political contributions are not.
Farm Sanctuary lawyers have requested a hearing before the Elections Commission. If found guilty, the group could face fines totaling $210,000.
Karen Walker, a Holland & Knight lawyer in Tallahassee representing Farm Sanctuary, said the group did not deliberately violate Florida law. She said the group's president, Gene Bauston, was not familiar with Florida election laws.
"We have a difference of opinion over what is willful," she added.
Farm Sanctuary operates shelters in New York and California for rescued cows, pigs and other farm animals.
The amendment on Tuesday's ballot would require pig farmers to house pregnant pigs only in cages that are big enough for the pig to turn around freely. Violators would face a criminal charge with a maximum penalty of a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
If the amendment is approved, Florida would be the first state with such protection. It would affect two pig farms in Florida.
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From the Times state desk
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