Ethics, election complaints now a campaign weapon

More than 8 complaints filed against 2 campaigns in gubernatorial race

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The number of ethics and election complaints rise sharply in election years. Eight complaints have been filed by one side or the other in the hotly contested gubernatorial race, and the complaints are seldom upheld or effective campaign strategy.

One billboard was the subject of a complaint against Charlie Crist's campaign. The complaint alleged the sign was an in-kind campaign contribution. Another was filed against a similar TV spot.

Both were thrown out. So was a complaint against Rick Scott's Let's Get to Work Committee. It was over how money was handled.

More than eight complaints have been filed against the two campaigns. The fact that complaints from both sides are being dropped shouldn't come as much of a surprise. Last year, more than half of all complaints were found insufficient.

Lawyer Mark Herron frequently handles complaints before the ethics and elections commissions. He calls them a distraction.

"It energizes the base, but I don't think it wins or loses elections. But it does divert from the important issues they should be discussing," said Herron.

Former Gov. Bob Martinez was honored for civic participation Tuesday at the Historic Capitol. Political consultant Mac Stipanovich ran both his successful and unsuccessful campaigns.

"And I don't believe that any campaign I was involved in has ever filed a single ethics complaint," said Stipanovich. "You know, It just embitters everyone."

Martinez said the escalating complaints are a sign of the times.

"It's better news sometimes to find the faults of another person, but I think part of it is that maybe candidates haven't adjusted to the information that's out there," said Martinez.

Under Florida law, filing a knowingly false complaint can result in the filer paying the legal fees for the other party; that seldom happens.

Florida's Ethics Commission has a meeting scheduled for Friday.