Florida Ethics Commission clears Ken Welch in 2018 lobbying controversy

Welch, Ken - 3
The news comes less than one week before Election Day.

The Florida Ethics Commission found no probable cause former Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch misused his position in 2018 when lobbying public officials on behalf of his wife.

The commission cleared Welch at a meeting last Friday — less than two weeks before the St. Petersburg election in which Welch tops the ballot for Mayor.

Welch has defended his actions lobbying a nonprofit considering his wife for employment since it made headlines. The issue has dogged Welch’s mayoral campaign in some attack emails by a shadowy group, which messaged St. Pete voters highlighting the past controversy. The emails referenced a Tampa Bay Times editorial criticizing Welch for an “obvious conflict of interest.

Welch lobbied St. Pete-based R’Club Child Care, which the then-Commissioner was promoting as an option to replace a taxpayer-funded literacy program for disadvantaged children.

At the same time, it was revealed the organization had promised to hire his wife, Donna, who had been fired from another nonprofit that ran the same faith-based reading program after she and two other leaders received $16,000 in unauthorized vacation pay, according to The Tampa Bay Times.

After Donna Welch’s firing and the controversy in June 2018, the Juvenile Welfare Board asked the YMCA of Greater St. Pete to take over the program. Two months later, the R’Club offered to take over, starting Welch’s lobbying efforts.

Welch told the Times in 2018 that he lobbied board members to keep the reading program in churches and to defend his wife, not to help her get a job.

The controversy has done little more than cause a headache for Welch in his mayoral campaign. He has maintained a strong lead in the race, where he faces St. Pete City Council member Robert Blackmon.

With less than one week until Election Day, Welch is holding onto a double-digit lead over Blackmon in the race. In a St. Pete Polls survey taken Tuesday, Welch led Blackmon with 55% support to Blackmon’s 39%. Only 6% of voters indicated they were either still unsure or wouldn’t say who they supported.

Welch’s 16-point lead in the poll is a slight drop from a previous St. Pete Polls survey, taken in September, in which he led Blackmon by 17 points.

Kelly Hayes

Kelly Hayes studied journalism and political science at the University of Florida. Kelly was born and raised in Tampa Bay. A recent graduate, she enjoys government and legal reporting. She has experience covering the Florida Legislature as well as local government, and is a proud Alligator alum. You can reach Kelly at [email protected]


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