The committee says District 7 commission candidate Brent Fisher circulated false and misleading statements.
By ED QUIOCO
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 6, 2000
A Republican candidate mailed a flier with false statements about his opponent in the Pinellas County Commission District 7 race, a committee ruled Sunday.
The Citizens for Fair Campaign Practices Committee unanimously ruled at a hearing that Brent Fisher used false and misleading statements about his Democrat opponent, Ken Welch.
The flier claimed that Welch favors a tax increase "to benefit Florida Power" and that his campaign is funded by the company and special-interest money.
"It's very unusual to have unanimous votes," said committee chairman Darryl Paulson, a Republican. "We just thought there was overwhelming reason to support Mr. Welch's grievance against Mr. Fisher."
Welch, who filed a complaint Friday, said he was glad the committee was able to meet on short notice.
"I'm just elated that this group exists and that they were able to assemble so quickly," Welch said. "I think voters are tired about this kind of negative politics."
On Sunday, Fisher said that the seven-member committee was dominated by six Democrats, suggesting that partisan bias played a role.
However, Paulson said there were at least three Republicans, including himself, on the committee.
Fisher also contended he was not able to file a counterclaim because he had not signed the committee's code of conduct.
"I'm embarrassed for the committee, really," Fisher said. "To me, this allows Mr. Welch to hide behind the special-interest question simply because I was not able to file a counterclaim."
However, Paulson said Fisher's campaign was told that if he wanted to, he could file a counterclaim.
"Maybe he should realize that one of his problems is he has difficulty grasping the truth," Paulson said.
Fisher's flier claimed that Welch's campaign is funded by Florida Power and special interests. Welch, a Florida Power accountant, said some of his co-workers have supported him but their donations compose a small percentage of his total contributions.
"The statement, we felt, was clearly designed to mislead the voters into believing that Florida Power was bankrolling the Welch campaign when, in fact, there is no evidence to indicate this," Paulson said.
Fisher also accused Welch of supporting a tax that would benefit Florida Power. The tax he referred to is a 6 percent surcharge that county commissioners wanted to add to the electric bills of unincorporated residents. Florida Power would only collect the tax and pass it on to the county, the committee ruled.