Paige Kreegel “heads-up” call to Curt Clawson hints at illegal coordination

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Congressional hopeful Curt Clawson received an ominous voicemail message Friday from former State Rep. Paige Kreegel, his GOP primary opponent for Florida’s 19th Congressional District.

Set to begin on Saturday, Kreegel said, were a series of SuperPAC ad buys targeting Clawson — as well as Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto.

“I just read or heard that the PAC people are going to spend so much negative on her and so much negative on you,” he added. “It’s not something I wanted, and not something I can prevent. Anyway, that’s the way it is.”

Sure enough, negative ads calling both Clawson and Benacquisto “liberals” ran the next day.

On the surface, a “heads up” seemed right; but the phone call raises an even more disturbing question:

How did Kreegel know about the ad?

The group behind the ads, Values are Vital, was opened and managed by Anthony Farhat, Kreegel’s 2012 finance director — and it is against federal law for candidates to coordinate with a supporting SuperPAC.

Kreegel insists he did nothing illegal, at least according to an interview with the Tampa Bay Times, telling the reporter “you can discuss anything.”

“The only thing you can’t discuss is the violent overthrow of the U.S. government,” he added. “Everything else can be discussed. You can sit and discuss murder, but if you don’t take any action, you’re cool.”

Not necessarily, Kreegel was told in 2012, when he was considering setting up an similar “independent expenditure group” to attack then-GOP-candidate Trey Radel.

Kreegel did not want to go directly negative on Radel in the primary; he wanted it done through a third party — like a SuperPAC. It was amazingly similar to what is happening in the current race.

“He wanted to set up a SuperPAC to hit Radel,” Matt Dobler, Kreegel’s 2012 campaign manager told the Times.

But that was not allowed, according to Jason Roe, a 2012 Kreegel advisor.

“I told him repeatedly that it would be illegal,” Roe said. “That didn’t seem to phase him.”

Clawson spokesperson David James said that the phone call may have come as a shock, but not a surprise.

“While this is for sure a shocker, and may mark the first time a candidate for federal office has so blatantly spoken for a Super PAC, the threatening message is in keeping with Paige Kreegel’s checkered past,” James said.

“Sadly, Paige Kreegel thinks the laws he would be elected to make don’t apply to him and indeed so-called ‘values’ aren’t so vital to him,” he added. “The people of southwest Florida are fed up with insider politicians like Kreegel and deserve an outsider like Curt Clawson.”

Kreegel’s phone call is available here:

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.