During your average election cycle in Florida (and around the country), there are always some egregious examples of dirty campaigning.
Sometimes, they can decide an election.
Examples abound, but generally, there is little recourse for an injured candidate, other than to try to rebut the negative message via advertising or comments to the media.
Brad Drake thinks that’s wrong, and he’d like to do something about it.
At Thursday’s House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee, the DeFuniak Springs Republican asked state election officials what recourse is there when a candidate is subjected to “malicious” comments from his opponent?
“If a candidate defines the opposition as being one who shoots peanut butter up their veins, or if they put malicious statements on Facebook and say ‘candidate A is a heroin addict,’ “Drake asked. “What is the resource of the opposing candidate?”
Amy Toman, executive director of the Florida Elections Commission, said that a candidate can always file a complaint with her organization.
Spring Hill Republican Blaise Ingoglia said the real problem with such negative and false allegations is the extensive delays between reporting an elections violation and the time the commission addresses it.
“If somebody is talking about peanut butter and veins, then they know that it is a political calculation, knowing that the time you all rule, the election is over,” said Ingoglia. He’d like a “fast-track process” where if a candidate sends out false information, the other candidate can file a complaint and get a response from the election commission within five business days.
Ingoglia posited that “vile speech” is protected by the First Amendment, but said that “false speech should be protected at least by the courts.”
Toman explained that there is no statute currently to expedite such investigations. Currently, the Florida Elections Commission only meets every three months to review such complaints.
“So, you would basically have to be lucky that you’re being attacked or smeared right before an election commission meeting,” Ingoglia said sarcastically. He asked if Toman could provide information as to the average time it takes such a resolution to be completed. She said she would research and get back to Ingoglia with that information.
Drake said he was also bothered that when a candidate who does not meet the minimum qualifications files to run for office, he or she is essentially committing perjury and asked if there was a statue of limitation on candidates in Florida who did that.
Toman said that there is a provision in state election law that prohibits anyone from swearing a false oath in connection with elections, but emphasized that “we don’t have any criminal jurisdiction,” so the elections commissions could not charge anyone with a felony. Drake said he wanted to get the agency to investigate that issue as well.
Ultimately, Drake stated that he and Ingoglia might begin working on legislation to reform the current system regarding false campaign reports.
“Only if there’s lots of peanut butter involved,” Ingoglia quipped.
Plantation Democrat Katie Edwards added that “if you’re going to impugn someone’s credibility, you better have the information and documents to back it up, and not just throw something out there like so-and-so is a terrorist, so and so is a wife beater, so and so is a heroin addict.”