Lisa Wheeler-Brown’s campaign has admitted it was not the blunders of a previous campaign manager that led to a flurry of reporting errors and a possibly illegal campaign expense, but rather Wheeler-Brown’s own malfeasance.
According to The Tampa Tribune, Meagan Salisbury, Wheeler-Brown’s current campaign manager, acknowledged that some of the errors happened after former campaign manager Nick Janovsky left the campaign and that Wheeler-Brown didn’t understand how to properly file some of the expenses and contributions.
The result of that is a $500 expense for dental work, a likely misuse of funds, that went misreported as office space for more than six months. Following that, it was uncovered that the office space at Advantage Village Academy was actually an in-kind contribution the campaign failed to report. The campaign then amended reports earlier this month to reflect the contributions, but later changed the name again to reflect that it was Parker Financial Services behind the contributions, not Advantage Village Academy.
Advantage Village Academy is a nonprofit organization and it is illegal for them to contribute, in-kind or otherwise, to political campaigns.
Parker Financial Services is a private business. Both entities are run by Toriano Parker.
Janovsky has long held he had nothing to do with the errors and quit the campaign after identifying questionable campaign finance activity, but before any reports were prepared or filed.
Perhaps the most concerning issue in light of the latest news that the campaign is acknowledging the missteps were those of the candidate and not Janovsky is the implication that the campaign lied to cover her tracks.
After initial reports were broken by SaintPetersblog, Salisbury blamed the inaccuracies on Janovsky’s own incompetence. Supporters called the news “petty” and blamed SaintPetersblog for unfair reporting on the issue.
Five days after the news broke, the Tampa Bay Times re-reported the issues. Meanwhile, the paper announced late Tuesday afternoon they were still maintaining support for Wheeler-Brown. There was absolutely no mention of the questionable campaign finance reports.
The paper listed its reason for backing Wheeler-Brown as her commitment to support St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman’s Memorandum of Understanding with the Tampa Bay Rays. That agreement would allow the Major League Baseball team to look outside of St. Pete in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties for alternative stadium sites.
The Times, and other supporters of the Mayor’s agreement, argue not reaching an agreement could spell the end of baseball in the entire region and the loss of up to $500 million in potential revenue that would be reaped from development of the Tropicana Field site.
The Rays have an iron-clad contract to play at Tropicana Field until 2027. Without an agreement some baseball fans and city officals, as well as the Times, worry the Rays will leave the region and the city would have to wait more than 10 years to begin any development of the site.
Wheeler-Brown’s opponent, Will Newton, does not support the agreement as it’s currently written, but said he is willing to reach a compromise if elected.
Further showing the Times’ dedication to making this a one-issue race, in addition to ignoring campaign finance violations, is its endorsement of District 5 candidate Phillip Garrett over 6-year incumbent Steve Kornell.
While Kornell has overseen numerous wins in his District and throughout his district, including sweeping improvements in the Skyway Marina District and the expansion of Jabil Circuit to the Ceridian building on 34th Street South, the Times listed Garrett’s support for Kriseman’s MOU as its sole reason for endorsing the inexperienced candidate.
Kornell has raised more than $40,000 from supporters in the race while Garrett has barely broken $1,000 in contributions.
The Tampa Tribune endorsed Wheeler-Brown in the primary election, but switched its pick to Newton after news of the campaign violations broke. They also endorse Kornell, with “pause,” despite his stance on the Rays issue.
Candidates for City Council, which also include City Council Chair Charlie Gerdes and Monica Abbott, will face off November 3.