Keep "Dark Money" Out of City Elections

On City Politics

BY VIRGINIA HOFFMAN SRQ DAILY MONDAY BUSINESS EDITION MONDAY SEP 17, 2018

Most people agree attack ads from unknown political action committees (PACs), dropping gobs of "dark money" to influence voters, results in bad government.

City of Sarasota Commission elections have been free of those shenanigans. But residents will feel the toxic tide of dark money if a referendum to change the election date is approved.

Currently, the nonpartisan City Commission races are decided in the spring. But the ballot proposal (dubbed Change the Date) would shift city elections to coincide with August primaries and November general elections. 

The interests behind Change the Date claim their sole agenda is to increase voter participation. If this were the only consequence, fine—but in the current political environment, moving the city election is a bear trap riddled with deleterious consequences. That’s why city voters must VOTE NO on the referendum this November.

Moving the spring elections to the August/November cycle—when partisanship and PAC money abound—would forever change the tone of city races and dampen the ability of grass-roots candidates to win seats. Transparency would suffer, because PACs aren't required to report their donor and spending information in time for citizens to research it before voting. 

There would no longer be a fair playing field. A new breed of city candidates—financed by dark money, exactly as County Commissioners are now—would blast negative discourse and drown voters in dishonest attack mailers.

Furthermore, moving the election date to August would diminish civic engagement. The city's March election schedule gives candidates access to winter residents and neighborhood organizations. Those groups recess in the summer. Walking door-to-door in hot, humid weather in August will be challenging. 

Who is behind the proposal? Change the Date backers paid $6,000 to Micro-targeted Media, owned by Christian Ziegler—the developers’ empty-suit County Commission candidate.

Hardly grassroots considering they paid approximately $9,000 to an army of petition gatherers to put this measure on the ballot. The move is bankrolled by the Chamber of Commerce ($18,000), The Argus Foundation ($18,000), Gulf Coast Builders Exchange ($10,000), Realtors Political Advocacy Committee ($5,000), and the Manatee-Sarasota Building Industry Association ($1,500). All are business, real estate and development organizations. 

Please VOTE NO on the Change the Date referendum this November.

Virginia Hoffman is a Sarasota sculptor and Arlington Park leader.

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