Nothing To Hyde

Guest Correspondence

When I asked Martin Hyde about his $4,000 donation to the political committee (PC) “Making a Better Tomorrow,” I did not expect him to provide a full explanation of how he violated Florida election law. But that’s exactly what he did.

“Martin, your money is in there with Jim Gabbert…Randy Benderson…Carlos Beruff…Pat Neal…so I have to ask, will you be a lap dog for….(their) special interests?” I queried. Candidate Hyde proceeded to explain that he donated to the PC as a conduit for funding a GOP mailer to City voters identifying himself as a Republican.

I told the 2017 City Commission candidates Jen Ahearn-Koch, Hagen Brody and Hyde that we were streaming live video of my radio show on Facebook while we settled in for their group interview.

City Commission races are nonpartisan, and candidates are forbidden by state law from putting out campaign materials identifying their political party. Candidates are barred from donating to Political Action Committees and coordinating political messaging with PCs. Hyde claims he was a naive “babe in the woods” regarding campaign finance rules, yet he clearly explained that he knew his campaign wasn’t allowed to fund a partisan mailer, which why he gave his $4,000 to a PC.

Hyde gave $4,000 to Making a Better Tomorrow (managed by Eric Robinson) on Feb. 13, 2017. On same day the PC Legal Reform Now (also managed by Eric Robinson) gave $4,000 to the Republican Party of Sarasota County (Robinson is the GOP accountant). The Republican Party of Sarasota paid $4,302.26 for “mailers” in March 2017, according to campaign finance reports.

These 2017 activities have resulted in a $1,500 fine for Hyde, a $2,000 fine for the GOP and findings of probable cause by the Florida Elections Commission against the PCs involved and dark money PC administrator (and School Board member) Eric Robinson. With fines that are 50 percent or less than the illegal donation, political financiers may consider the penalties just the cost of doing business. In addition, because the Legal Reform Now PC has been dissolved, the FEC is reportedly not pursuing the case against it, because they say there is no way to penalize a PC which no longer exists.

But what about the dark money manager at the helm? Eric Robinson is still administering PCs. If dissolving a PC makes an investigation go away, the FEC has just handed PC managers like Robinson an easy method to make their political money laundering activities even less subject to legal consequences.

Robinson denies responsibility for funneling Hyde’s PC donation into GOP coffers. Robinson told the Herald Tribune, “I’m appealing it. I didn’t know anything about anything.”

Robinson expects the public to believe that local political donors like Martin Hyde, who fork over thousands of dollars to his PCs, are not directing how to use their money is to be used. If that’s the case, why donate to Robinson’s PCs? Why not donate to their political party, or favorite candidate?

Thank you, Martin Hyde, for your candor. Without it, this particular PC shell game would have proceeded without incident.

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail.

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