Direct mail round-up: RPOF dings Alex Sink with shot-down critique of state plane use

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Even though PolitiFact ruled a similar line of attack as “half true,” the Republican Party of Florida has sent a mailer to voters in Florida’s 13th Congressional District dinging Democrat Alex Sink for her use of state airplanes while she was Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.

The mailer, with its airy and simple design, revives the claim that Sink used state airplanes for a trip to the Bahamas.

“She once had the plane drop her off in Ft. Lauderdale so she could catch a flight to the Bahamas for vacation,” reads one of the headlines featured on the mailer.

Similar accusations became difficult for Sink during her 2010 campaign, and the new claims want to cause her more turbulence.

A 2009 report (reported in both the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald) show the Sink’s state-provided air travel cost $413,334 between January 2007 and June 2009.

Florida law requires Cabinet members to maintain residence in Tallahassee, but does not let them to use state planes to travel to other residences.

The NRCC’s ad refers to a Florida Commission on Ethics investigation, claiming a trip to the Bahamas and spending $400,000 of “taxpayer money to fly around the state” and “used the plane to attend political campaign events.”

The commission found no wrongdoing by Sink, and that she violated no state statutes.

In addition, the ethics panel found no “willful intent,” and that she also met the reimbursement guidelines for attending campaign events and transporting family. Sink’s use of state planes did not constitute a misuse of state resources.

It is against Florida rules to use state aircraft to shuttle between a lawmaker’s home and Tallahassee, the Times notes, but they do allow flying an official to state functions and back. Sink had flown on state planes 58 of nearly 250 times either to or from Tampa International or Vandenberg airport (later changed in 2009 to Tampa Executive Airport).

She paid for almost 190 commercial flights home during the time period under examination.

During the investigation, Sink claim she flew to one city for an official function, and it was a “common practice” to stop at a high-ranking officer’s home or other destination, for picking them up or dropping off. Diverted flights are acceptable if there was business in the destination city for pickup flights, or in originating cities for drop-off flights.

Manager Mike McClure of the Department of Management Services Bureau of Executive Aircraft Operations told the board the costs in diverting flights this way were minimal.

As for the Florida GOP accusation of a taxpayer-sponsored trip to the Bahama, Sink has diverted a plane (legitimately) in 2008 to Fort Lauderdale to catch a Continental flight to the Bahamas, where she and her husband Bill McBride had a condominium.

The December 2009 committee report found “no probable cause” for claiming Sink violated state laws. Inconsistencies in Florida statues also led to confusion over using state planes, with some officials using them for trips without a valid business purpose. The committee recommended clarifying the law, since the law as it stood could not definitively find any wrongdoing.

In ruling the ad “Half True,” PolitiFact took exception with the claim that Sink “used a taxpayer-funded plane so she could get to a vacation in the Bahamas.”

It is true Sink was headed to a vacation in the Bahamas, and it is true that she used a state plane to reach her commercial flight after finishing her official business in Miami.

The ad obscures the fact an ethics committee cleared Sink of any state law violations, and aircraft diversions were commonplace  for high-ranking officials at the time.

The flight, which only took her 25 miles out of the way, can be interpreted as using the plane to “get to a vacation in the Bahamas.” But the phrasing suggests Sink took a state plane to the Bahamas, which she did not.

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Here is the reverse:

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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.