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Aaron Darr used campaign funds for frequent travel

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Former Largo City Commission candidate Aaron Darr has been using campaign funds to travel all over the state as well as New York City and Washington D.C. Most recently Darr spent more than $400 in the Big Apple during the month of December.

During that same period, Darr raised just $534. Only $35 of that came from donors in New York.

Expenses listed on Darr’s latest campaign finance report suggest that he was in New York City for most of December with expenses listed beginning on December 29.

Darr lists three “donor meetings” on the expense report. Those were allegedly held at Westway Diner, Ollies Sichuan and Ninth Avenue Saloon. What’s perhaps troubling is that Ninth Avenue Saloon is a gay bar, which isn’t a normal stop for campaign meetings. Darr said the meeting was with the Victory Campaign, a group he was trying to urge to endorse him.

The bar advertises itself on a Facebook page as a “leather bar.” Leather bars promote leather culture, which is typically a style of dress including leather that advertises to others sexual preferences that could include sadomasochism or other forms of “kinky” sex. Darr spent $53 in that bar.

Darr spent the most amount of money on taxi trips. A total of $133.76 went to New York Taxi for ten trips spanning December 7 through December 28. Darr acknowledged some of those trips may have been walkable, but due to health problems associated with HIV and the cold weather, Darr said he worried walking would cause him to fall ill.

He spent more than $120 on food at places like Burger King, Domino’s, Subway, the Chicken Bar and Off Broadway Deli. Another $34.57 went to Duane Reade, a Walgreens subsidiary, for “office supplies.”

Darr did appear to do some fundraising while in New York City. In a post dated December 1, Darr added photos of himself being interviewed for his race.

“I want to thank FOX NEWS in New York City for having me interviewed via their studio for FOX 13 in Tampa Bay tonight,” the post read.

And he didn’t spend his trip just campaigning for himself. Darr also posted photos of himself at a Hilary Clinton fundraiser.

“Attending a Hillary for America fundraiser today with Drew Barrymore, Chelsea Clinton and America’s next President Hillary Clinton,” Darr wrote on December 17.

“I am so proud of Hillary for stepping up to the plate to create the kind of economic gains and wins that everyday Americans need and deserve. I supported her in 2008 and I am happily doing so again.”

Darr is a former New York resident who worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential bid and vocally supports her in the 2016 Presidential Preference Primary.

Going back even further, Darr also spent time in New York City from November 16-30. During that time he spent $267.12 on cab rides, office supplies, food and “donor meetings.”

Those meetings occurred, again, at the Ninth Avenue Saloon as well as the Russian Vodka Room piano bar, Dallas Barbeque and AMI Jukebox Barlink, which is a web app that allows users to play music in restaurants from their tables.

Darr doesn’t list any contributions from New Yorkers during November. However, his Facebook page shows that on November 16, he attended a fundraising event at the New York Marriott Marquis for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

In all, Darr said he was in New York from November 14th through January 8th for various reasons including the cancer fundraiser – a trip he made no effort at hiding. And while there are few campaign contributions that came from New York donors, Darr said he expected plenty of dollars to roll in after his trip. However, upon returning to learn another candidate planned to enter the race,  Darr withdrew.

But it wasn’t just Darr’s expenses in New York that appear questionable. Going back to October, Darr spent $44.50 on new reading glasses from a vendor in New York – though reports do reflect shipping costs in that purchase. He also paid $30 for a haircut and purchased a dress shirt for a campaign event.

And also forked over cash for meals in various cities. Darr allegedly ate at the Patio Café in Naples on October 19 where he spent $16.60. That same day he made a purchase at a local Dunkin Donuts.

On October 15, Darr purchased gas in Kissimmee for just under $40 and then ate at a KFC in Kissimmee the next day.

On October 6 Darr purchased a one-way air-fare for $80 from Spirit. Records do not reflect where Darr’s destination was. However, he said it was a flight booked to return from Ft. Lauderdale where he had spoken with the Democratic Women’s Club. Darr explained he had arrived in Ft. Lauderdale via train. Records show he purchased an Amtrak ticket for $78 on September 27.

That ticket was supposed to include round trip transportation, however Darr said the return train was cancelled. Records reflect a return of $39 supporting that.

Darr also ate at the Bagel Snack in Pompano Beach and The Manor in Wilton Manors, which is in between Pompano Beach and Fort Lauderdale.

Darr removed his name from the Largo City Commission race last week telling SaintPetersblog he was endorsing another candidate who entered the race, Neil McMullen.

Receiving contributions from outside donors is not uncommon in local races, particularly when the candidate is originally from somewhere else.

However, candidates don’t typically travel to those locations to solicit contributions. Darr’s contributions and expenses show a wide disconnect between where and when he received donations and where he traveled.

It’s not clear whether a complaint has been filed with the Florida Division of Elections. Campaign finance reports are filed with the Largo City Clerk who only verifies that they were received by deadline. The state election division handles complaints about campaign finance violations.

Consequences for violating campaign finance laws can vary from small to large fines to possible criminal charges depending on the severity.

Darr did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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