tampabay.com

Senate candidates take battle to phones

By CURTIS KRUEGER
Published August 15, 2006


Republican state Senate candidates Kim Berfield and Frank Farkas have begun a phone war, with both candidates being criticized in automated phone messages that have gone out to potential voters in the state Senate District 16 race.

Farkas' campaign this weekend sent out automated phone messages saying that Berfield is being backed by the insurance industry and Scientologists.

Meanwhile, a doctor-backed group, People for a Better Florida, sent out automated phone messages saying "Frankly, it's an outrage - a foreign trip with gambling lobbyists paid for by the casino industry." The message also said, "If you see Frank Farkas, ask him why he abused the people's trust."

Farkas refused to explain the Scientology comments on Monday, but said he would elaborate in a mailing that goes to voters Wednesday.

However, the issue came up at a candidate forum Monday night, and Berfield lashed out at such "desperate acts," which she said were "outrageous fabrications."

In response to a question at the forum sponsored by the Tampa Republican Women Federated club, Berfield said she had modeled fashions at an event at the Belleview Biltmore Resort & Spa that Scientologists had some part in organizing. After the forum she said the event raised money for the Boys & Girls Clubs, and said that by raising the issue, "he's not hurting me, he's hurting the Boys & Girls Clubs." She said a member of her Rotary club asked her to participate.

Told of the phone messages by a reporter, Ben Shaw, a spokesman for the Church of Scientology in Clearwater, said "I think it's totally outrageous and inappropriate."

The anti-Farkas phone messages mentioning a foreign trip were referring to a trip to Toronto that Farkas took this year with three fellow legislators, financed by a gambling company.

A Senate investigation eventually concluded the four legislators broke no laws in accepting the trip. Nonetheless, the People for a Better Florida group sent mailings to voters Monday saying "a Senate investigation caught him red handed ... frankly speaking, his moral compass is broken."

Berfield said she had not seen the mailing or heard the phone message, but Farkas said that's not good enough. "She can hide behind the umbrella," of outside groups like the doctors' organization, Farkas said. But he said he is being more up-front. "My phone message was my phone message."

Berfield said if a mailing was sent on her behalf by a third-party group that contained false information, "I would be willing to stand up and say something's wrong."