Show Me The Money

Guest Correspondence

BY CATHY ANTUNES SRQ DAILY SATURDAY PERSPECTIVES EDITION SATURDAY AUG 1, 2020

Aug. 18 is election day for the Sarasota School Board. Among the candidates running, Eric Robinson is the only incumbent. Robinson’s tenure on the school board includes an unusual salary proposal, negotiation strategy, and uncommon, concurrent work as a PAC administrator and campaign treasurer. He is a man who wears many hats and voters may wonder whether these other roles compromise his ability to be an effective public advocate on the School Board.  Eric Robinson works for so many people, but does he work for us?

Robinson is listed as the treasurer of 92 PACs (political committees) in the state of Florida.  Over $23 million from special interest donors have been contributed to PACs Robinson administers. Among these donors is Gary Chartrand, a board member of KIPP Charter Schools in Jacksonville. Chartrand is a well known advocate for corporate charter schools. Chartrand and his wife have contributed over $460,000 to PACs Robinson administers. 

Eric Robinson claims he is just the accountant for these political committees. However, a review of state records show his accounting businesses have contributed over $230,000 to PACs he manages. 

Managing PACs has been lucrative for our School Board representative. Between 2013-2019, Eric Robinson received over $700,000 in accounting and consulting fees from political committees.

His income from managing PACs doesn’t include lucrative work as a campaign treasurer for numerous political campaigns. In a 2012 race, Robinson was treasurer for a candidate who faced no opposition. That candidate, former Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie, gathered over $78,000 in campaign contributions. Chappie paid Robinson over $19,000, (25% of his campaign contributions) for campaign accounting. Another 2012 Manatee County Commission candidate, Betsy Benac (who actually had an opponent), paid Robinson less than $3,000 for his services as campaign treasurer.

This opportunity Robinson has to receive compensation tied to the political fortunes of public officials (as a campaign treasurer,) or compensation tied to political donors (as a PAC treasurer), clearly has the potential to impact his take on public policy, like school board compensation.

As a School Board member, Robinson proposed that school board salaries across the state be eliminated. That way, Robinson said people would run “for the right reasons.”

“When it’s unpaid, you’re going to get people who are more passionate,” Robinson said. 

Or, you’re going to get people who work for someone else. 

When the School Board was negotiating with Sheriff Tom Knight about who would pay for enhanced school security, Eric Robinson’s texts to the Sheriff undermined the negotiating position of the School Board. “Make us pay 100 percent.” Robinson texted Knight, adding  “F them,” a reference to his fellow school board members.

Clearly Eric Robinson gets confused about what his job is, who he works with, and he’s willing to forgo the salary we pay him to represent us. He clearly doesn’t need the money. With so many others who pay him, who does he work for?

Cathy Antunes is host of The Detail.

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