Mark Pienkos returns Democratic Party donations exceeding charter limits
Did the Democratic Party funnel thousands into Mark Pienko's Commission race? Image via Facebook.

Republicans said excessive funneled dark money into Sarasota County Commission race.

Sarasota County Commission candidate Mark Pienkos said he’s returning most of the money donated by the Florida Democratic Party.

The move comes after Republican Party of Sarasota County leaders asserted the $6,000 in contributions violated a charter provision limiting contributions to $200.

Pienkos said he understood the state party and local Democratic Executive Committee, which donated $1,500 to his campaign, were exempt from the local ordinance.

“Florida State law allows political parties to donate to candidates in excess of limits set to individuals,” Pienkos said. “Any contributions made over the local Sarasota County ordinance limit was done without intent and will be refunded today to the Sarasota County Democratic Party and the Florida Democratic Party. Our campaign is responding in the spirit of transparency.”

Republican Party of Sarasota County acting chair Jack Brill alleged in a letter to county leaders to contributions violated local regulations. He demanded officials take action quickly.

“Time is of the essence, as this money has already tainted these elections,” he wrote in a letter to County Attorney Frederick Elbrecht. “We expect prompt and swift action from the County Attorney and the Board of County Commissioners as the Vote by Mail ballots have already been sent.”

Pienkos is challenging incumbent County Commissioner Mike Moran, a Republican, who also criticized the donations.

Moran called on Pienkos, and on two Democrats running for other county commission seats, to return the money.

“It is the responsibility of all candidates to follow the rules of the Sarasota County Charter,” he said. “I call for all candidates that have taken these funds to return them to the Democratic Party immediately.”

The state party has directed more spending at down ballot candidates this year.

Pienkos said while he’s returning money out of an abundance of caution, he was somewhat surprised to see complaints about candidate spending, particularly an assertion by Brill the party donation allowed dark money.

He pointed instead at mailers from David Biddle’s Gulf Coast Conservatives Fund and Eric Robinson’s Florida Country, state political committees. Those include one from the Gulf Coast committee slamming Pienkos as an “extreme liberal.”

“Our campaign urges an overall review of where all campaign contributions come from,” he said. “For example, my opponent’s campaign has sent out three mailers paid for and from PACs – not by my opponent’s campaign. Specifically the Tallahassee PACs sending mail attacking local Democratic candidates, including our campaign.”

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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