Tracking the players in Manatee special election

Groups organize on both sides in debate on ballot questions

mmasferrer@bradenton.comJune 16, 2013 

MANATEE -- As election day approaches, a variety of political committees have taken the lead in promoting their respective messages about two referendum questions on the June 18 special election ballot in Manatee County.

Here's a rundown of who they are:

Healthy Manatee

Healthy Manatee, chaired by former county commissioner Pat Glass, has taken the lead in the campaign to win voter approval for a half-cent increase in the sales tax to fund health care programs, including services for the indigent.

"Health" is part of the group's name, but the main thrust of its campaign is the prospect of a higher sales tax, which would be paid in part by tourists and other visitors, being offset by a corresponding drop in the property tax rate for county residents. County Administrator Ed Hunzeker has made such a switch part of his proposed 2013-14 county budget, but property tax relief is not part of the ballot question and county commissioners have made no assurances.

As of May 24, Healthy Manatee had raised almost $170,000 in contribution -- mainly from local hospitals and others in the health care industry -- and spent almost $106,000 on its campaign, according to finance reports filed with the county elections office.

A bulk of the spending had gone to The Nolan Group, a Bradenton political consulting firm, to pay for mailers and other materials.

Committee for Community Leadership

You may have received a automated telephone call from Committee for Community Leadership promoting the sales tax proposal.

Since July 2012, when the Palmetto-based "electioneering communications organization" was formed, CCL has collected 11 individual donations totaling more than $95,000, according to finance reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections. It has spent an almost equal amount.

The donors include UHS of Delaware Inc., the parent company of Manatee Memorial Hospital and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, $2,000; and Blake Medical Center, two donations totaling $7,000.

Also donating $5,000 each were Schroeder Manatee Ranch, developer of Lakewood Ranch; and Benderson Development, which owns several shopping centers in the region.

More than $46,000 in donations came from Peter S. Rummell, a Jacksonville real estate investor and chairman of the Urban Land Institute; and another $20,000 came from the Jacksonville Civic Council, whose "mission is to create a clear vision for the city of Jacksonville," according to its website.

Manatee Against Taxation/Common Cents for Manatee

Manatee Against Taxation -- which lists its base as Venice, in Sarasota County -- has taken the lead in opposing the sales tax hike, largely with fliers that have flooded local mailboxes in recent weeks.

The group registered May 30 as a political action committee, and as yet has not filed financial disclosure reports with the Florida Division of Elections, according to the agency's website.

The group's treasurer is Eric Robinson, who also is listed in documents as the registered agent for Common Cents for Manatee, which also opposes the sales tax hike.

Common Cents, which is registered with the state as an "electioneering communications organization," also has not filed reports detailing contributions and expenditures.

Neither group is required to file financial disclosures until next month.

Committee for New Jobs Now

Committee for New Jobs Now is promoting approval of a second ballot measure that would allow the county to provide property tax breaks for new and existing businesses that create new jobs in the county.

Between Jan. 1 and May 24, the Lakewood Ranch-based group had raised more than $78,000 in contributions, and spent more than $46,000. The group's treasurer is Neil Spirtas, an executive with the Manatee County Chamber of Commerce.

Of the money raised, $75,000 had come from the Bradenton Area Economic Development Council, according to a finance report filed with the county elections office.

Citizens for Good Government

On June 7, Citizens for Good Government registered with the county elections office, and its filing papers said it opposes the "sales tax referendum and economic development ad valorem tax exemption."

The chairman of the group is Steve Vernon, who also president of Tea Party Manatee.

The group has not filed any reports detailing contributions and expenditures.

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