White to pay fees for suit spending

Accused of wrongly using campaign funds, he reaches a tentative settlement.

Published May 25, 2007

TAMPA - Hillsborough County Commissioner Kevin White may have spent $6, 100 from campaign funds on tailored Italian suits.

But those duds will cost him another $9, 500 in fees, according to a draft of a settlement reached Thursday with the Florida Elections Commission.

That's less than the $38, 047 White might have been fined after the FEC in February found probable cause that he committed 14 violations of state election law.

Most of the problems the FEC cited stemmed from his purchase of fine tailored suits, trousers and ties from Tampa clothier Robert U. Robins, expenditures first reported by the St. Petersburg Times in August while White was running for County Commission.

White bought the clothes with campaign contributions, declaring them on expenditure reports as "consulting" costs paid to "Robbins Consulting, " with an extra B in Robins.

Instead of listing Robins' BC Men's Wear, 1903 E Hillsborough Ave., as the address where the payment was made, White reported 4206 N 29th St., a house Robins deeded to a relative.

In two violations, the FEC also cited White's purchase of a computer for personal reasons. But the commission later determined White used the Dell for campaign purposes and therefore dismissed the charges.

"I'm just glad it's over with and settled and done and life goes on, " said Victor DiMaio, a political consultant for White. Early on, DiMaio said he researched the wardrobe matter and determined it was a legitimate expense.

White, a former Tampa police officer and City Council member elected to the County Commission in November, could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. But his attorney, Mark Herron, confirmed the agreement terms.

After a story detailing the campaign expenditures first appeared in the Times last year, White said he decided to amend his campaign reports and pay for the suits himself.

"I wanted to clear up any ambiguity that may be surrounding my expenditures, " he said at the time.

White went on to win the District 3 County Commission race with almost 68 percent of the vote in spite of the controversy.

"The people spoke and they knew everything that was going on, " DiMaio said. "Hopefully this will just be a footnote."

The FEC settlement draft must be signed by both parties and approved at an Aug. 16-17 meeting of the Florida Elections Commission before it is final.

DiMaio said he was glad the commission at least dropped the computer purchase issue - and glad White was elected.

Asked if he would suggest candidates steer away from clothing purchases in the future, DiMaio noted that campaigns routinely purchase T-shirts, hats and more.

And there's no question, he said, that appearance is important in the world of politics: "You have to look good when you run for office."

Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at rcatalanello@sptimes.com or 813 226-3383.