Perry Thurston Campaign Audited (Again) By Florida Dept Of State

perryuSomebody over at Perry Thurston’s campaign headquarters needs a refresher course on Florida elections laws. Once again, the Florida Department of State has mailed an audit letter to Perry Thurston regarding improper campaign financial reports. Thurston, the former Minority Leader in the Florida House, is running for the Florida Senate District 31 seat.

Thurston opened his Senate campaign in January 2013. Since then, he ran for re-election for his House seat and statewide for Florida Attorney General. One would reasonably assume Team Perry could figure out how to file a campaign financial report. Right?

Well, you would be wrong.

Since 2013, the State of Florida has sent Thurston ten audit letters. Most of the letters required Thurston to provide name and addresses of campaign donors. Thurston has been fined by the State for improper reporting.  On November 30, the State sent Thurston a second notice regarding a $1,500 contribution.

Thurston is no stranger when it comes to ignoring elections laws.

RESIDENCY GAMES EXPOSED

In 2013, an investigation by this reporter exposed Thurston’s flouting of the State Constitution’s residency requirements. Thurston admitted he lives outside his House district “when I want to.” Thurston’s admission added weight to evidence he livef outside the House district he represents, in violation of the Florida Constitution. Article III of the Florida Constitution requires state legislators to live in the districts they represent. WPLG LOCAL 10 reporter Bob Norman caught Thurston at the Plantation home he owns with his wife outside the House district he represents. Thurston represents House District 94 while living in House District 99 in Plantation.

Thurston claimed to be living with a convicted felon in a small home in Lauderhill, rather than with his wife and children in their two-story Plantation home.  The Broward County Property Appraiser’s Office determined Thurston “violated the law” by using the homestead tax exemption for his Plantation home while he claimed to be living in Lauderhill. The Property Appraiser removed Perry Thurston’s exemption.

ALL IN THE FAMILY

In September, REDBROWARD showed the Thurston campaign was spending its money paying members of the Thurston family.

According to the Florida Department of Elections, since January 2013, Thurston has raised nearly $55,000 for his State Senate campaign. Not surprisingly, as the minority leader of the Florida House, most of Thurston’s campaign contributions came from special interest groups and political action committees. As of August 2015, the Thurston campaign has spent $26,156.37 of his contributions.

The records show the overwhelming majority of the money was paid to Thurston and his wife Dawn. Since 2013, the campaign has paid $6,923.04 to Dawn Thurston. The campaign stated the expenditures were made for “canvassing,” “meals,” “campaign supplies,” “campaign expences [sic],” and “campaign expendatures [sic].” Since March 2015, Mrs. Thurston has received $5,071.61 from her husband’s campaign.

Campaign records show multiple payments to Perry Thurston, Floyd Thurston and Frances Merricks. In April 2013, this reporter exposed Frances Merricks’ role in Thurston’s residency games. Thurston claimed to be living with a convicted felon in Merricks’ small home, rather than with his wife and children in the two-story home he owns in Plantation, in order to meet elected officials’ residency requirements in the Florida Constitution.

CLARKE-REED ISN’T MUCH BETTER

State records show Thurston’s Democrat opponent isn’t much better at following the rules. State Rep. Gywndolen Clarke-Reed has received five audit letters since opening her campaign in June 2015. At least Clarke-Reed lives in the district she represents.

State Sen. Chris Smith Tied To Shadowy Miramar Political Committee

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State Sen. Chris Smith

Official State and local records show the political committee of State Senator Christopher L. Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) contributed money to a shadowy political committee in Broward. Last week, REDBROWARD exposed the role the secretive “Alliance for Better Governance (ABG)” political committtee played in the March 2015 Miramar city commission elections. The committee spent tens of thousands of dollars on the elections, but campaign reports listed fictitious names and addresses for donors and campaign workers.

According to campaign reports filed with the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office (SOE), the “Alliance for Better Governance” received five contributions from the Miami consultant “ABCD” located at 12345, Miami FL 33027. This “consultant” made contributions of $7000, $1500, $750, $1000 and $1800 between February 19, and March 9, 2015.

Roderick C. Kemp, the contact person for the “Alliance for Better Governance,” is a close associate of Alexandra Davis, a former Miramar city commissioner. Records show Kemp registered the domain name “voteforAlexandra.com” in December 2013. Davis used this domain name for her campaign website during the March 2015.

When contacted by REDBROWARD, Kemp admitted the political committee worked to get Davis elected. He said, “We helped [Davis] and lots of municipal candidates.” Kemp said he registered the domain name when Davis “needed an email address.”

As for the fictitious names and addresses, Kemp said the person who filed the reports for him “must have made a mistake.” Kemp promised to fix the mistake.

The very day REDBROWARD reported the story, “Alliance for Better Governance” submitted an amended report with the Broward Supervisor of Elections Office. This new report raises more questions than it answers. The donors include the relatives of a Miami-Dade County Commissioner and the political committee of State Senator Chris Smith.

ABG claims it received two contributions from B&B Professional Consulting Inc of West Park. Once again, the address given for B&B Professional Consulting Inc is fictitious. State of Florida records show the corporation is based at 3840 SW 26th Street, not 3649 SW 26th Street. The company is owned by Billy and Barbara Hardemon, the uncle and aunt of Miami-Dade County Commissioner Keon Hardemon. According to the Miami Herald, the Hardemons are longtime Liberty City political powerbrokers.

Could this be another simple “mistake” by the person filling out the forms? Perhaps. However it is not the only fictitious address on the amended report.

ABG reports a $1,000 contribution on March 2, 2015 by Florida’s Future. The report claims Florida’s Future is located at “3316 HOLLYWOOD BLVD. HOLLYWOOD, FL 33021.”

According to IRS records, Florida’s Future is located at 3816 Hollywood Boulevard, in Hollywood.

Last week, the Miami Herald reported how Florida’s Future funded the travel and dining expenses of State Sen. Chris Smith. Records were murkier at Florida’s Future, a political action committee operated by Smith, the Senate’s former minority leader from Fort Lauderdale. Expense filings were not matched with individuals. Committee treasurer Roderick Harvey, a CPA, blamed the tax season for a two-month delay in responding to a media inquiry to break down charges. 

Smith told the Miami Herald his committee funded “voter outreach in Broward.”

“Smith said all expenses were related to the committee’s voter outreach in Broward County and ‘not for a particular candidate.’”

The Herald reported the PAC’s registered purpose, which it is required to file with the Florida Secretary of State, is “supporting candidates who believe in creating a solid foundation for Florida’s Future.” When the reporter asked Smith why the committee spent money on outreach and dining instead of spending on a candidate, Smith said, “I honestly don’t know. I need to check that out.”

Last week, the Florida Division of Elections sent an audit letter to Florida’s Future regarding its March contribution to the “Alliance for Better Governance.” Florida’s Future listed a March 2, 2015 expenditure to “Alliance For Better Government.” It failed to include legally required information including the address, City, State, and expenditure purpose.

Florida’s Future has seven days to respond to avoid a violation of Chapter 106, Florida Statutes.