Panhandle Politico reporter Deborah Nelson has filed a complaint with Florida’s Elections Commission, requesting an investigation into the final disposition of the PAC funds outlined in this article.
A complaint filed with the Florida Elections Commission says that a political action committee formed by Matt Gaetz improperly donated over $300K to a federal PAC supporting Gaetz’s congressional candidacy after the Florida Division of Elections had warned them about donating to the same PAC just seven months earlier.
On August 18, 2016 Pensacola resident Clark Yates filed a complaint with the Elections Commission regarding the June 20, 2016 transfer of $369,008.25 from Economic Freedom Foundation, a Florida PAC, to North Florida Neighbors, a Federal PAC. (See Statute referenced by complaint)
According to a November 2, 2015 letter signed by Kristi Reid Bronson, Florida’s Division of Elections notified Economic Freedom Foundation that a prior, $10,000 donation from Economic Freedom Foundation to North Florida Neighbors, dated August 12, 2015, violated Florida Statute 106. Specifically, the donation violated Florida law that prohibits the transfer of State PAC money to Federal PACs.
The State did not penalize Economic Freedom Foundation for the $10,000 violation. Economic Freedom Foundation’s attorney, Bucky Mitchell, on November 12, 2015, told the Division that Economic Freedom Foundation “will not make this type of expenditure in the future.”
Economic Freedom Foundation was dissolved on May 26, 2016. Per a North Florida Neighbors financial report, the $369K donation from Economic Freedom Foundation is dated June 20 – after Economic Freedom Foundation was disbanded.
Panhandle Politico asked the Division of Elections the following questions. They have not yet responded, but if they do, we’ll print that information in a later article:
- Why didn’t the Division of Elections audit and flag the $369,008.25 donation from Economic Freedom Foundation to North Florida Neighbors, as they did with the prior $10K donation?
- Does the $369K donation violate Florida law?
- Will you investigate the $369,008.25 donation, as requested in Mr. Yates’ complaint?
- Per Florida statute, the penalty is potentially over a million dollars for the amount in question. Would your office pursue that? [the Division did note that penalties are decided by the Elections Commission].
- The $369K donation appears to have happened after Economic Freedom Foundation was disbanded and after the deadline for the final report, per North Florida Neighbors’ July 15 Quarterly Report. Is that legal and how will the Division of Elections address it?
- The Division of Elections’ online database shows a $369,008.25 balance for Economic Freedom Foundation’s financial data at the time of their dissolution. Why did your auditing department allow the PAC to dissolve with a positive balance?
- A source told Panhandle Politico that your office advised him the Division would have to reopen Economic Freedom Foundation’s account, and add the missing expenditure to the database after the fact – is that standard procedure and has it been done yet?
- How will Matt Gaetz’ history as a Florida State Representative and his father, Don Gaetz’ history as the former Florida Senate President, impact any investigation you may undertake?
Background from staff reports:
Thursday, August 18, a complaint was filed with the Florida Elections Commission concerning contributions from a state level PAC controlled by either Matt Gaetz or Gaetz family associate Amanda Clark. If the commission finds that these contributions were made with disregard for the rules, the penalties could include over a million dollars in fines as well as potential criminal sanctions.
- State Rep. Matt Gaetz. Gaetz is the 34 year old son of State Senator Don Gaetz. He is Currently running in a heated campaign for US Congress.
- Amanda Clark is the wife of Sen. Don Gaetz Chief of Staff, Chris Clark.
- Abby Dupree is a professional PAC manager and treasurer.
- Economic Freedom Foundation is a state level PAC that was organized on 8/30/2013 (1-EFF Organization) with Matt Gaetz as the Chairman and Abby Dupree as the treasurer.
A Florida political committee (PAC) must use its funds solely for Florida political activities, i.e., depositing contributions and making expenditures, which by definition in Florida law, are for the purpose of influencing only Florida elections. This does not include elections of candidates running for federal office from Florida.
- North Florida Neighbors is a Federal super PAC organized on 7/29/2015 (2-NFN Organization) with Abby Dupree as treasurer.
A super PAC is a type of independent political action committee which may raise unlimited sums of money from corporations, unions, and individuals but is not permitted to contribute to or coordinate directly with parties or candidates.
The North Florida Neighbors website calls itself “The Leading Independent Super PAC Supporting Conservative Republicans Matt Gaetz for [United Sates] Congress, Florida District 1 and Neal Dunn for [United Sates] Congress, Florida District 2.”
8/12/2015 – Economic Freedom Foundation makes $10,000 contribution to North Florida Neighbors. (3-Audit Letter, pg. 3)
11/2/2015 – The Florida Division of Elections issues an audit letter requesting additional information about certain contributors and the contribution made from Economic Freedom Foundation to North Florida Neighbors. (3-Audit Letter) The letter includes a page from the 2016 Political Committee Handbook published but the Florida Division of Elections explaining that state PACs are not allowed to donate to Federal PACs
11/12/2015 – Bucky Mitchell the attorney of record for Economic Freedom Foundation sends a letter to the Division of Elections stating that “To date, the committee has been unable to obtain a refund of the $10,000 expenditure(s) that generated the Division’s (of Elections) compliance report. Please be advised that the committee will not make this of expenditure in the future…” (4-Audit Response Mitchell)
Abby Dupree is the treasurer for both PACs.
4/18/2016 – Matt Gaetz resigns from Economic Freedom Foundation and appoints Amanda Clark chairman. (5-Gaetz Resignation)
5/19/2016 – Economic Freedom Foundation files a revised statement of reorganization that indicates that after dissolution, any remaining funds will be sent to “other 527 organizations”. (6-Revised Organization, pg. 3, Line 10)
A 527 organization or 527 group is a type of U.S. tax-exempt organization organized under Section 527 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. § 527). A 527 group is created primarily to influence the selection, nomination, election, appointment or defeat of candidates to federal, state or local public office.
5/26/2016 – Economic Freedom Foundation files for disbandment with Florida Div of Elections
Amanda Clark, Chairman
Abby Dupree, Treasurer
6/3/2016 – Economic Freedom Foundation’s final report is filed with the Division of Elections but does not include the disposition of $369,008.25.
(9-Campaign Finance Activity)
6/20/2016 – North Florida Neighbors records donation of $369,008.25 from Economic Freedom Foundation. This is the same type donation previously flagged seven months earlier as invalid by the Division of Elections.
(10-NFN Itemized Contributions, pg. 9)
As a result of a recent complaint lodged by a Pensacola man, the Florida Elections Commission will now review these events to determine if they are in violation of Florida Law. According to letter written to Economic Freedom Foundation by the Division of Elections, the laws covering this transaction are in Chapter 106 of the Florida statutes which states, in part:
(1) Any candidate; campaign manager, campaign treasurer, or deputy treasurer of any candidate; committee chair, vice chair, campaign treasurer, deputy treasurer, or other officer of any political committee; agent or person acting on behalf of any candidate or political committee; or other person who knowingly and willfully:
(d) Makes or authorizes any expenditure in violation of s. 106.11(4) or any other expenditure prohibited by this chapter;
is guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.
(2) Any candidate, campaign treasurer, or deputy treasurer; any chair, vice chair, or other officer of any political committee; any agent or person acting on behalf of any candidate or political committee; or any other person who violates paragraph (1)(a), paragraph (1)(b), or paragraph (1)(d) shall be subject to a civil penalty equal to three times the amount involved in the illegal act. Such penalty may be in addition to the penalties provided by subsection (1) and shall be paid into the General Revenue Fund of this state.
UPDATE: Chris Clark resigned as Chief of Staff for Sen. Don Gaetz in the summer of 2014. He is currently working for the Florida Medical Association.