UPDATED: 2:45 p.m. with comments from Duval SOE Jerry Holland
“Who do we support for mayor now?”
That question was at the top of an email from the former “Bill Bishop for Mayor” campaign (firstname.lastname@example.org). Given Bishop’s repeated declaration of neutrality, it was a surprise. Of course, the email wasn’t from Bishop himself, but from the RLS Group. And it, according to the Lenny Curry campaign, is an “interesting betrayal” of Bishop by his staff, and a violation of campaign law.
Rob and Jill Storey managed the Bishop campaign. Now they’re under contract with the Florida Democratic Party for the Alvin Brown campaign. They hada message for the Bill Bishop mailing list.
“In the period after the First Election,” the Storeys write, “an interesting thing happened.”
“Our campaign staff came to the same conclusion … independent of each other … that we would support Alvin Brown.”
While “we don’t have all the initiatives we care deeply about supported by the mayor, we do have enough to say this is the man we want in the mayor’s office for the next four years,” the email continues, calling Curry a “narrow-minded accountant” who would “dredge, purge, and restrict any progress we’ve made and not restore anything.”
I spoke Friday with Bishop, who had nothing to do with the email and called it an “operator error” that he will “have to get them to change.”
Meanwhile, Curry campaign spokesman Brian Hughes called the email, “an interesting betrayal of Bishop by his staff.” He called it was an example of “more amateurish tactics” by the people with his former campaign.
“Bill Bishop has taken a clear position” to not endorse, Hughes said, and this “dishonest tactic” from an “account owned and possessed by Bishop” goes against the candidate’s stated position, using his name to say something he wouldn’t say.
That’s not the bigger issue, however. The bigger issue is the violation of campaign law in play, Hughes said.
“What his team has done is violated election law. The email comes from an account that can’t make an expenditure. His staff has made him susceptible to a claim. Bishop needs to understand that his former staff has made his operation an illegal operation,” Hughes said.
“The account was legally possessed by the campaign. Using the account violates election law. His former staff has made an illegal communication,” Hughes contended.
“The likelihood is extremely high that an election law violation claim will be filed against Bill. Bishop needs to insist on a cease-and-desist order because they are getting him in trouble,” Hughes said.
Rob Storey responded to an email from me on this subject.
“We’re sending out a clarification. The return email of email@example.com was mistakenly kept on the email and people are equating that as coming from Bill.”
Whether that clarification will solve the problem is an open question. WJCT tweeted that “Bill Bishop for Mayor campaign endorses
@MayorAlvinBrown for re-election, saying he has most in common with @Bishop4Mayor.”
How many other outlets and readers will have gotten the wrong impression?
When questioned, Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland concurred that the email is somewhat misleading, at the least, and possibly illegal.
“There are things in question,” Holland told me. “The email is from Bill Bishop for Mayor, not the RLS Group. The title says Bill Bishop for Mayor. In context of the email, the first paragraph talks about Bill Bishop supporters, then uses the phrase ‘our campaign staff.'”
Since the Storeys work for Brown now, the question is who “our” is.
“This email is a little misleading. Are they trying to represent this as being from Bill? There’s no disclaimer. This definitely raises questions. I sent the email to the Florida Division of Elections” for more information, Holland said.
In addition to having called the RLS Group to “express concerns regarding the lack of disclaimer and wording” of the email, Holland has also sent it to lawyers. He awaits a response, and we will have an update when he gets it.
Update: RLS Group sent out a midafternoon Friday clarification email.
“Important message! This email represents the views of RLS Group and is in direct response to questions we have received from voters. It does not express Bill Bishop’s stance on the mayoral race in any way. Sorry for any confusion!”