Power play in commission primary
Attempting to buy your favorite candidate a seat on the Hillsborough County Commission is easier than election laws suggest.
Businessman and political activist Sam Rashid has so generously funded the candidacy of Josh Burgin in the Republican primary to defeat incumbent Commissioner Mark Sharpe that it raises the question of what purpose is served by a state law that restricts most of us to giving $500 per candidate.
There appears to be no practical limits on the influence available to someone with money and determination.
Burgin worked for Rashid for two years. When he quit to run for county commission, Rashid gave him $30,000 in severance pay, most of which Burgin promptly loaned to his own campaign and then boasted of his fundraising prowess.
Rashid gave Burgin's campaign the maximum individual contribution of $500. Rashid's saw company that had hired Burgin also gave him $500. Rashid's cafe gave Burgin $500. Rashid's spa gave Burgin $500.
Rashid's property company gave Burgin $500. It is the same company that owns the building in which the county's Republican Executive Committee has its office.
If the objective of the state campaign-finance law is to prevent one person from individually bankrolling someone's candidacy, it sure isn't hampering Rashid.
The political issue at the center of the campaign is Rashid's opposition to the 1 percentage point increase in the county sales tax, on the November ballot. The revenue would be used for buses, local rail and roads.
But that issue doesn't explain the intensity of the campaign to unseat Sharpe. It is possible this month to vote for Sharpe, who has been an active and effective commissioner, and in November to vote against the tax.
Cities everywhere have transit votes. It's the best way to settle the polarizing issue, on which reasonable and informed people may strongly disagree.
There's something more at stake here that voters should not ignore. Rashid had warned Sharpe not to support the vote on the tax.
Sharpe disobeyed and voted with a majority of the commission to put the question on the ballot to let voters decide.
Sharpe thinks - we agree and so do many business leaders - that improved transit will help the local economy and reduce the need to spend property taxes on roads.
In any case, Sharpe is not raising taxes - and cannot. Voters will either support the tax, or not, in November.
This is really about intimidation. If Burgin wins, Rashid will send a message: "If you defy me you get whacked."
The slick, independent mailers attacking Sharpe have been funded in part by Rashid, apart from the Burgin campaign.
If Sharpe loses, Rashid gains power. The next time he leans on a commissioner, he won't have to ask, "Remember what I did to Sharpe?" How could anyone forget?