Prince of Dark Money
School Board Member Frank Kovach announced this week he will not run for reelection after 16 years of service. Kovach said the recent nonpartisan school board race was “corrupted by cash” and he expects the trend to continue. Former Sarasota GOP chair Eric Robinson is interested in running for the School Board. Robinson expects to decide by June 1.
When Kovach first ran for school board in 2000, $10,000 for a campaign would have been a lot. Last fall’s race between Bridget Zeigler and Ken March had each candidate raising over $51,000 and $72,000, respectively, with Zeigler getting support from a shadowy political action committee called Citizens Against Taxation. Eric Robinson was the PAC’s chair, treasurer and registered agent.
The Herald-Tribune reported last fall on difficulty tracing a major donor to the Citizens for Taxation PAC. The donor in question, Phoenix Media, gave $45,000 to the PAC. Robinson refused to disclose who was behind Phoenix Media and the Zeigler PAC financed mailers, saying “donors don’t want to be identified.” Robinson refused to say where Phoenix Media was based (the company doesn’t do business in Florida) and told the newspaper “You’re not going to find it.” Robinson would only affirm the company filed LLC paperwork in the United States.
My research turned up five Phoenix Media LLCs in the United States—they are in New York, New Jersey, South Carolina, Oregon and Wyoming. The NJ and NY Phoenix LLCs don’t list registered agents, but have been in existence since 1997 and 2002. The Oregon and South Carolina Phoenix LLCs seemed unremarkable, with registered agents who are actual people. Phoenix Media, LLC in Cheyenne, Wyoming is a different animal.
Phoenix Media in Cheyenne was formed in July 2014. The $45,000 in donations to Robinson’s Citizens Against Taxation PAC from the unidentified Phoenix Media began in August 2014 and ended in October 2014.
The Wyoming Phoenix Media’s business principal, mailing and registered agent are all listed as Wyomingregisteredagent.com, Inc. It seems in Wyoming, the level of anonymity and untraceability for LLCs is such that you don’t even have to identify an actual human being with a company—you can use a website.
Phoenix Media LLC in Wyoming shares its address, 1621 Central Avenue, with 249 other LLCs. Another 250 LLCs are listed next door, at 1620 Central Avenue in Cheyenne. Scores of these firms also list Wyomingregisteredagent.com, Inc. as their registered agent, just as Phoenix Media does. I wondered if I had found a cottage industry of untraceable LLCs—are these other companies donating to PACs as well?
Maybe the Wyoming Phoenix is the one who donated to Robinson’s PAC, maybe it isn’t. The point is, we shouldn’t be wondering who from out of state is pumping thousands of dollars into our school board races. With numerous PACs supervised by Robinson, continuously being created and disbanded, and hundreds of thousands of dollars passing through these entities, it’s too late for Robinson to don the cloak of transparency as a candidate—that ship has sailed. The corruption of nonpartisan school board races by Robinson-assisted dark money ought to disqualify him as a candidate for school board.
SRQ Daily Columnist Cathy Antunes serves on the boards of the Sarasota County Council of Neighborhood Associations and Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government. She blogs on local politics at www.thedetail.net