Orlando anti-tax group campaigns against rail tax, Sharpe
An Orlando-based anti-tax crusader is challenging the well-funded campaign to raise Hillsborough County's sales tax by a penny on the dollar for light rail and other transportation projects.
Doug Guetzloe, chairman of the "Ax the Tax" political committee, kicked off his campaign with a press conference in Tampa Monday, painting it as a battle between over-burdened taxpayers and big business and government.
"We don't get $50,000 checks from SunTrust," Guetzloe said.
Guetzloe's group is also targeting county commissioner Mark Sharpe, an outspoken proponent of the transit tax who has served on the commission since 2004.
Campaign finance records show Ax the Tax has collected about $32,800, including $500 from Sam Rashid, a conservative Hillsborough activist who is backing Josh Burgin in the Republica primary. Most of the other contributors to the group are from Orange and Polk counties.
The group has spent more than $30,000 on the anti-transit tax campaign, including about $10,000 for an anti-Sharpe television ads running on Bright House Network channels. Guetzloe hopes to raise another $75,000 to $100,000 to defeat the tax and Sharpe.
Moving Hillsborough Forward, the political committee supporting the transit tax, has raised nearly $1 million, with contributions from the Tampa's leading industries, developers and law firms.
"The residents of Hillsborough County are smart enough to see through this misleading effort to distort the facts," said Margie Martin, communications director with Moving Hillsborough Forward. "This group is from outside Hillsborough County, and doesn't represent the people who suffer every day from our lack of transportation options here."
That doesn't faze Guetzloe who claims Ax the Tax has won other election battles in which it was outspent.
"We expect to be outspent 15 or 21 to 1, but that's not unusual," he said.
Guetzloe has been in the middle of several high-profile tax referendums in Orange County, including the 2003 defeat of the Mobility 20/20 sales tax increase for transportation.
In May, the Florida Elections Commission found probable cause that Guetzloe and Ax the Tax had violated a state law advocating for the election of a state attorney candidate without notifying the state that Ax the Tax had changed from an issues-only committee to a committee that supported candidates. The distinction is important: Issues-only committees can accept contributions in excess of $500, the cut off for candidates' committees.
The commission also found that Ax the Tax ran a political advertisement without prominently marking it as a paid, political announcement.
Guetzloe said the advertisement in question was link on his Web site to the candidate's Web site. He said nothing on his Web site advocated voting for the candidate or against her opponent. What's more, he said, the law cited by the elections commission has been changed by the Legislature and governor.
"The law that they cite is no longer on the books; it's gone," he said. "Even if it was so, nothing we produced said vote for or against anyone, so it's irrelevant."
Guetzloe has a right to a hearing before the elections commission. He said if he does not prevail there, he will appeal ruling to federal court.
The commission fined Guetzloe $3,000 in 1995 and $4,000 in 2007 for separate elections violations. Neither fine has been paid, according to the elections commission.