Connecting Cash

Guest Correspondence

BY CATHY ANTUNES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 27, 2016

Sarasota’s only competitive school board race will be decided on August 30. Two of the school board seats are being decided during this election cycle, but only one of those races will result in a school board member being elected by having to compete for the support of Sarasota voters. Coordination between PACs and some candidates are blatant in this school board election.  

In the District 3 school board race, incumbent school board member Frank Kovach chose not to run again, saying the election process has been “corrupted by cash.” The District 3 seat is being filled by Eric Robinson, who receives a tidy income stream from his PAC management activities in Sarasota and other Florida elections. For instance, In 2014, Robinson’s company, Robbie’s LLC, received a $140,000 consulting fee from a Sarasota political committee he managed. State records show contributions to Robinson political committees total over $5 million. Included in this figure are contributions to Citizens for Florida Prosperity, which lists County Commissioner Christine Robinson as its registered agent, Eric Robinson as its treasurer and $645,000 in donations. The other committees list Eric Robinson as both registered agent and treasurer. Guess the Robinson’s like to keep their PAC activity in the family.  

Eric Robinson is walking onto the School Board’s District 3 seat unopposed. Two other candidates had filed to run, but ultimately chose to withdraw. One has to wonder if taking on one of the state’s biggest PAC operatives was a factor in their decision. With the ability to swing tens of thousands of dollars in his campaign’s direction, any opponent of Eric Robinson would understand that the financial advantage belongs to him.

An advertisement criticizing a School Board incumbent running for re-election, Caroline Zucker, was paid for by a political committee called “Sarasota Citizens for Our Schools.” The PAC’s address belongs to Robinson’s accounting firm. A press report indicates that Robinson recently resigned as the treasurer of the PAC, with the husband of Zucker’s opponent, Teresa Mast, taking over as treasurer. So candidate Mast’s husband is working for the PAC attacking Zucker.

Robinson claims he was not involved in Sarasota Citizens for Our Schools negative advertisement. He told the Herald Tribune: “When they told me [the advertisement] would happen, I took my money out of it. I was going to use that PAC for my office race, but when they told me they were going to use it for Mast, I took my money out.” So Robinson admits it’s his money, and that he was running a PAC on behalf of his own campaign.

The money “taken out” by Robinson is a $35,000 contribution made by Sarasota Citizens for Our Schools to another Robinson PAC, Legal Reform Now. Sarasota Citizens for Our Schools received its major funding from Robinson PAC Build Something that Lasts. A review of the Build Something That Lasts donor list reveals Gary Chartrand, who sits on the board of directors of Jacksonville’s KIPP charter schools, a corporate charter school entity. 

At least Robinson and Mast’s ties, and a corporate charter school agenda, are becoming clear.

Catherine Antunes serves on the board of Sarasota Citizens for Responsible Government.

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