A Florida non-profit known as Liberation Ocala African American Council Inc. has been making a late push for Democratic Senate District 8 candidate Olysha Magruder, but its methods may be running afoul of state campaign finance laws.
The company, run by former Marion County NAACP president Whitfield Jenkins, has footed the bill for a number of direct mail campaigns supporting Magruder, a former school teacher and activist, and opposing her primary opponent, Kayser Enneking.
The mailers pitch Magruder with boilerplate language, such as claiming she’s “fighting for equality and progressive policy” and touting her as an “educator, mother and progressive leader.” Interestingly, one of the pro-Magruder ads touts the Ohio native as the “authentic progressive who is active in our community” despite Enneking being a Gainesville native — GHS diploma and all — who has been active in the community for decades longer.
The mailers also hit Enneking, a physician, for being “privileged” and unaware of the struggles “average citizens face,” with another attempting to paint their primary battle as “rigged” and portraying Enneking as a “puppet” of the Florida Democratic Party.
“The Democratic Party establishment has already spent over $107,000 on Kayser Enneking, paying for her staff and campaign headquarters. When the establishment rigs our primaries, the people lose,” the mailer reads.
That assertion has little basis in fact, as Enneking’s political committee, Florida Knows Excellence, has kicked in $50,000 in contributions to the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee to offset those payments, which were cycled back in as “in-kind” contributions, a common practice in state campaigns.
Most of the rest of the gap came through research and polling work, which would be of benefit to the eventual Democratic nominee regardless.
But despite the numerous factual errors in the mailers, there are many questions about whether they are legal and how they are being paid for.
Ft. Lauderdale attorney Jason B. Blank, who is not affiliated with Enneking’s campaign, filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission seeking clarification on whether non-profit corporations can advocate for or against individual candidates without following the reporting guidelines of a political committee.
According to the Florida Division of Elections, that’s a resounding “no.”
The legalese response: “Florida statutory law requires a business entity or corporation formed under Chapter 607 or Chapter 617, Florida Statutes, for purposes other than to support or oppose issues or candidates, which uses its business/corporate treasury funds to make independent expenditures in excess of $500 that support of oppose a candidate to register and report as a political committee,” Division of Elections director Gisela Wrote in response to the complaint.
As of Aug. 17, there was no committee going by the Liberation Ocala African American Council, nor was their a committee where Jenkins was listed as a chair, treasurer or registered agent.
Upon learning of the complaint, Enneking campaign manager Jake Flaherty said he thinks there’s some foul play involving Enneking and Magruder’s mutual opponent, incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry.
“It is clear that Keith Perry and the Republicans are terrified at the prospect of facing Dr. Kayser Enneking in the general election. Her message of increased access to healthcare, better public education, and protecting the environment is one that resonates with voters and is a stark contrast to Keith Perry’s voting record,” he said. “That’s exactly why we are seeing dark money used to fund opposition to her in this primary, and I would not be surprised if the Republicans are directly involved.”
Enneking holds a massive fundraising lead a little over a week out from the primary election and recently started running TV ads for her campaign. As of Aug. 10, she had raised nearly $500,000 and had more than $326,000 in the bank, compared to about $35,000 raised and $6,800 banked for Magruder.
The FEC complaint, complete with scans of the mailers, is below.