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Shadowy group attacking Jennifer Webb in HD 69 race

A mysterious political committee has released an attack ad condemning Jennifer Webb, the Democratic candidate for Florida House District 69, for taking contributions from special interest groups, political insiders and lobbyists.

The Venice-based Citizens for Florida Prosperity Political Committee paid for the ad — not Webb’s opponent, Ray Blacklidge. It’s chaired by a Katie Morris of Quincy, who couldn’t be reached. 

Webb and Blacklidge are running to replace Republican Kathleen Peters, who is leaving state office to run for the Pinellas County Commission. She leads Blacklidge by double digits, according to a recent poll. 

The ad is absent specifics, but an on-screen visual, while a narrator talks about Webb accepting special interest funding, shows a figure growing to $100,000.

That number is not correct, according to the most up-to-date data in the Florida Division of Elections’ campaign finance database.

Webb’s political action committee, Putting Community First, has raised less than $30,000. Of that, about $9,000 is from lobbyists, outside groups or special interests.

Webb’s campaign has raised $267,000 through more than 1,400 contributions. The average amount of those contributions is less than $200 and the majority come from local donors.

Lobbyists, political interest group and political committees accounted for less than $60,000 in Webb’s campaign fund. Altogether, that’s less than $70,000. (Those figures were also calculated liberally by including local companies that many might not consider special interest groups.)

Blacklidge is filling his campaign and political committee coffers with generous donations from the insurance industry and Tallahassee insiders.

Of the $60,000 in Blacklidge’s political committee, more than $45,000 came from insurance-related businesses and groups. No surprise there, as Blacklidge is an insurance executive and lawyer who has an ownership stake and is a board member in one of his campaign’s largest donors, the Jerger family of companies, according to his own campaign bio on Facebook.

Blacklidge’s campaign fund has raised $275,685 with an average donation of $726 from less than 400 donors. Of that, more than $50,000 is from the insurance industry.

During a recent campaign forum moderated by this reporter, Blacklidge said he would not participate in any negative campaigning. Though he did not approve the ad’s content, he also declined to comment on it.

In fact, Blacklidge was initially unaware of the ad. Florida Politics provided him with a recording of the ad as well as campaign finance documents showing that the fundraising figures represented in it were inaccurate.

In an email after reviewing those items, Blacklidge said, “I really can’t say anything about something I have not approved or have any control over.”

The ad goes on to accuse Webb of accepting donations from groups that “tried to stop pay increases for teachers, pushed policies that would enrich health care corporations at the expense of consumers and supported job-killing regulations for small businesses.”

It added, “not to mention the fat government contracts at taxpayers’ expense.” The ad did not offer references for those claims.

Florida Politics tried to reach the Citizens for Florida Prosperity group at the only number listed in public documents. That number went to the CPA firm that the committee’s registered agent, Eric Robinson, works for.

Robinson is a Sarasota County School Board member and prominent member of the GOP who frequently runs or serves as treasurer for GOP political committees.

He came under fire earlier this year after investigators discovered Robinson had fallen victim to Nigerian scammers who talked him out of about $120,000 from Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s PAC, which he ran.

The Webb attack ad ends by cautioning voters not “to get caught in the Jennifer web,” a play on words based on the candidate’s last name.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jim Rosica, A.G. Gancarski, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Dan McAuliffe, Michael Moline, Jacob Ogles, Scott Powers, Bob Sparks, Andrew Wilson.
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