A growing political scandal involving candidates recruited to run as spoilers in Florida statehouse races should have a familiar ring to Gainesville-area residents.
A similar campaign was run here three years ago — and the lack of consequences for these underhanded tactics might have emboldened political operatives to employ them elsewhere.
Republican state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, faced a serious challenge in 2018 from Democrat Kayser Enneking, a University of Florida anesthesiologist. But Republican operatives helped an independent candidate, Charles Goston, act as a spoiler in the District 8 race.
Goston, a registered Democrat and former Gainesville city commissioner, received about 4,300 votes — more than double the margin by which Perry beat Enneking.
More Sun editorials:
The race was cited recently in a Daytona Beach News-Journal article on Frank Artiles, a former Republican state senator expected to stand trial Aug. 30 on felony charges stemming from accusations he paid a similar “ghost candidate” in a South Florida state Senate race.
The News-Journal reported that Artiles received $90,000 as a consultant from Data Targeting, a Gainesville firm long involved in GOP politics. Investigative documents from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office suggest Data Targeting CEO Pat Bainter played a role in three state Senate races that included ghost candidates, according to the report.
Perhaps the scandals would have been prevented by decisive action against the tactics used in Perry’s 2018 race. The Sun reported at the time that a political action committee funded by Republican lobbyists in Tallahassee provided much of the support for Goston’s independent campaign.
Goston accepted money from the PAC to reimburse himself for a campaign loan and pay for ads in his publication, Black College Monthly. Some of those ads didn’t even appear until a month after the race.
The former state attorney for our area, Bill Cervone, dismissed calls to investigate the election as “political sour grapes” at the time. He doubled down on those comments in the News-Journal story, saying there “is often speculation and seldom proof” following hard-fought elections.
“I can’t just go on some fishing expedition because the person who lost the election is upset. I’ve got to have probable cause,” Cervone said.
But there was more than mere speculation about the tactics used in the District 8 race. The Sun documented these tactics before and after the election.
A research director with Data Targeting paid more than $7,500 to obtain Enneking’s emails from UF through a public-records request, it was reported. Perry paid Data Targeting to work on his behalf, but it was Goston who filed a state ethics complaint days
before the election that claimed Enneking used her UF email for campaigning (a complaint that was later dismissed).
Enneking argues that the monetary value given by Perry’s campaign to Goston’s campaign amounted to an unreported campaign contribution, a possible felony.
Cervone’s successor, Brian Kramer, said the alleged violations are now likely near or beyond a three-year statute of limitations. He said his office has limited capacity to investigate such matters, which the Florida Department of Law Enforcement would be more appropriate to investigate to determine if there is probable cause a crime occurred and then refer to his office for prosecution.
If Cervone or other law-enforcement officials investigated these shady tactics right after they happened, they might have stopped them from being employed again.
Join the conversation
Send a letter to the editor (up to 200 words) to [email protected]. Letters must include the writer’s full name and city of residence. Additional guidelines for submitting letters and longer guest columns can be found at bit.ly/sunopinionguidelines.
Journalism Matters. Your Support Matters.
Get a digital subscription to the Gainesville Sun. Includes must-see content on Gainesville.com and Gatorsports.com, breaking news and updates on all your devices, and access to the Gainesville.com ePaper. Visit www.gainesville.com/subscribenow to sign up.