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Karl Nurse, Darden Rice reiterate support for Lisa Wheeler-Brown

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

Lisa Wheeler-Brown supporters are sticking by her side despite a barrage of controversy surrounding recent changes to campaign finance records.

Supporters of Wheeler-Brown’s campaign are calling the allegations petty and point to a riff between current campaign consultants and one who previously worked on her campaign.

While campaign supporters and volunteers have rallied behind their candidate on social media responses to a questionable expenditure for dental work, misreporting on that expense and late-filed amendments showing in-kind contributions previously unreported, there are two prominent supporters who aren’t backing off support.

Two current City Council members, Darden Rice and Karl Nurse, have endorsed Wheeler-Brown over opponent Will Newton and say they will continue to back her despite negative reports.

“I remain fully in support of Lisa Wheeler-Brown. I supported her when she first announced, which was five months before Will even entered the race. I support her now, “ Rice wrote in a statement. “We are fortunate that we have such great people to step up to run and serve the community.  St. Pete is at such an exciting and critical time of transition and opportunity. I have full confidence that Lisa is prepared to lead and that she will bring a unique background and leadership quality that the city will benefit from.”

SaintPetersblog broke news last week that Wheeler-Brown had used $500 in campaign funding to pay for repairs to a cracked tooth. The issue came to light when her campaign staff filed an amendment to a February 26 line item that listed the $500 expense as a payment for office space. The change took six and a half months to report

Earlier this week, we reported that office space from Advantage Village Academy was provided to the campaign free of charge, but that Wheeler-Brown’s campaign had failed to report the gifts as in-kind contributions.

Fueling the fire it was later reported by SaintPetersblog that in-kind contributions from nonprofit organizations, which Advantage Village Academy is, are illegal under IRS rules. That report led to Wheeler-Brown’s campaign filing yet another campaign amendment listing the office space as in-kind contributions to Parker Financial Services, a private entitity run by Advantage Village Academy head Toriano Parker instead of the nonprofit.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign consultants argue the mistakes were made as a result of mistakes made by a previous campaign consultant, Nick Janovsky of the group Strategic Campaigns. But Janovsky argues he left the campaign because of what he saw as illegal campaign finance activity.

Wheeler-Brown’s campaign claims he was fired.

“I think the negative attacks against her are unfortunate and that most people see through the silliness and meanness,” Rice said.

And Nurse, who has donated a total of $4,000 to Wheeler-Brown’s campaign between two maximum personal contributions and two from his company, echoes Rice’s continued support.

“A fight between the current campaign manager and the former campaign manager over who was responsible for sloppy paperwork is simply a sideshow,” Nurse said. “It is important, in my view, that we focus on important matters facing our community like keeping the Rays, redeveloping the Trop site and avoiding raw sewage in our streets.  Lisa has shown as CONA president that she can work with people in all neighborhoods in our city.”

Newton’s campaign has stayed silent on the issue. Wheeler-Brown’s campaign hopes that now that the mistakes have been corrected the two candidates can get back to focusing on the issues.

The Tampa Bay Times, who endorsed Wheeler-Brown in this race, also documented the mishaps in a report this week five-days after the news broke. Their report echoed claims from experts that the dental expense is likely not an appropriate use of campaign funds.

The campaign stands by the expense, comparing it to a candidate spending money to have hair and makeup done for photos or campaign events. The expenditure was listed as a photo shoot expense.

While two separate experts, Stetson University College of Law professor of political science Dr. Wayne T. Bailey in SaintPetersblog and Certified Public Accountant and prominent Republican campaign treasurer Nancy Watkins, have noted the expense as out of line, there is some precedent to the campaign’s spending choice.

During the 2008 presidential election GOP vice presidential supporters for candidate Sarah Palin spent $150,000 on clothing for her and her family. Those items were paid for by committees, not the campaign, and Palin donated the clothing to charity following the campaign per IRS rules that would have otherwise required her to document them as income on her taxes. Clearly, Wheeler-Brown cannot return the repair to her tooth.

There’s also John Kerry’s former running mate, John Edwards, who spent campaign funds on a series of $400 haircuts.

Regardless, the sentiment among Wheeler-Brown supporters remain strongly rooted in her ability to serve the city and the District 7 voters she would represent on council better than her opponent.

The winner of this race would represent two of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. Supporters hope the campaign will shift to addressing those issues and shy away from the campaign finance mishaps.

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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