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Are Scott Wagman’s ads on Google a violation of Florida’s election laws?

in The Bay and the 'Burg by

I’ve been wrong before about Scott Wagman violating Florida’s election laws, so I was much more thorough this time around concerning a possible violation by Mr. Houghton-Wagman.

And while the case has yet to be investigated and ruled on, it appears as if Wagman could be in a heap of trouble with the Florida Elections Commission. The alleged violation:

Upon conducting a search for the term “Jamie Bennett” on Google’s search engine, I was returned to a screen with an advertisement for the Scott Wagman Campaign for St. Petersburg Mayor.


This ad “expressly advocates the election of a candidate” by including the language “Scott Wagman for Mayor”, thereby qualifying the ad as a political advertisement as defined by Section 106.143, F.S.

Accordingly, there should be a candidate disclaimer, but there is not. This ad appears on Google searches from St. Petersburg, Florida, for the terms “Kathleen Ford”, “Bill Foster” and “Deveron Gibbons” — all of whom are Wagman’s competition.

There are other ads similar, BUT NOT EXACTLY THE SAME, as this banner ad. Example 2:


Example 3:


Example 4:


My contention is that each separate ad should be construed as a separate violation, especially since there is no remedy for correcting the omission of a disclaimer. What’s worse is that Wagman’s campaign obviously left off the disclaimer because of spacial concerns, thereby making this a “willful” violation.

So I have filed several complaints with the Florida Elections Commission. So far this election season, I have been right three times and wrong once regarding complaints. I could be wrong here, perhaps there is an opinion I haven’t read. But if I am right about Wagman’s egregious violations, it could end up costing his campaign several thousand dollars. Even to a millionaire, that has to count for something.

Update: So I asked for an unofficial opinion from Gary Holland, Assistant General Counsel for the Florida Department of State. He replied: “I agree the one that says “Elect Scott” is a paid ad that should have a disclaimer.

Update: Received the letter (and made a follow up phone call with the FEC’s Executive Director, who also believes the ads are a violation of election laws.

Update: Bay Buzz posts the story here.

Update: Legal Blog weighs in here.

Update: Wagman says Google ads, err, links, are protected under the 1st Amendment.”

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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