Clear Channel gives to billboard critic's campaign
April 21, 2010
As a city councilman, John Dingfelder has been an outspoken critic of outdoor advertising companies that have festooned Tampa's landscape with billboards.
So he was surprised to get a $500 political contribution last month from Clear Channel Outdoor toward his campaign for a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission.
Clear Channel has been seeking council approval for several years to allow digital billboards in the city, a move that has been held up by opposition from council members and neighborhood groups concerned it would add to the visual blight and cause public safety issues.
Dingfelder, who is running for the District 1 commission seat held by Rose Ferlita, said he was "surprised" by the contribution but will keep it.
"I don't have a problem keeping their money," he said. "They won't be buying my vote."
Dingfelder said he didn't solicit the contribution from Clear Channel and doesn't know why he received it. "I've been a thorn in the side the billboard industry for almost a decade," he said.
In a statement, Clear Channel defended its lobbying efforts and said the contribution to Dingfelder's county commission campaign adhered to local and state election laws.
"As a good corporate citizen we stand by our right to affect positive political environments which protect and preserve private property rights for all," the company stated. "Part of this process is to contribute to the political campaigns of those individuals who support such rights."
Dingfelder has raised more than $70,000, most in small denominations from individual contributors, since last year.
In the 2007 city elections, Dingfelder and several other council members -including Joseph Caetano, Tom Scott, Charlie Miranda and Gwen Miller - received campaign contributions from Clear Channel ranging from $65 to $500, the maximum by law.
Dingfelder appears to be the only candidate running for county or city office this year or next to get a check from Clear Channel, according to the county's election office.
The council on Thursday is expected to discuss proposed digital billboard regulations that would spell out how many billboards will be allowed in the city, how bright they can be and where they can be installed.
"Merely accepting a campaign contribution from a corporation doesn't create a conflict of interest," said Kerrie Stillman, a spokeswoman for the Florida Ethics Commission.
If, however, there was quid pro quo - if an elected official accepted a gift or campaign contribution in exchange for their vote - then that would be illegal, Stillman said.
Dingfelder said Clear Channel's contribution hasn't changed his mind about billboards.
"I have regularly opposed the proliferation of billboards in our neighborhoods and I will continue to do so regardless of this, or any other, contribution," he said. "Campaign donations do not have any influence on my votes, whatsoever."
©2010 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Back to Tampa Tribune Page. . .
Back to Home Page. . .