Ethics complaints against congressional candidate Keith Fitzgerald dismissed

MANATEE -- The Florida Commission on Ethics has dismissed two complaints filed against former Florida House member Keith Fitzgerald, a Democrat who is now running for a congressional seat.

"The allegations are legally insufficient to indicate a possible violation" of the law, according to a report issued Wednesday by the commission.

One of the complaints filed last summer by George Del Monte, a retired engineer from Bradenton, alleged that Fitzgerald failed to disclose his conflict of interest in voting on millions of dol

lars in taxpayer funds benefitting his employer, New College of Florida.

A second, similar complaint was also filed against the New College professor by Mathew C. Bruce, of St. Petersburg, according to the report.

The complaints do not indicate that any measure voted on by Fitzgerald directly caused any gain or loss to him personally, it said.

"While the college arguably benefitted as a result of the vote, it cannot be said the gain (for Fitzgerald) was 'special,' as the vote on the state budget as a whole" affected millions of people and interests, the report said.

The complaints were part of a "smear campaign" launched by the Florida GOP and U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, who is an opponent of Fitzgerald in the race for the District 16 congressional seat, said Matt Harringer, a spokesman for Fitzgerald's campaign.

It was designed to distract voters from Buchanan's own long record of investigations and poor ethical judgment, Harringer said.

"As Vern remains focused on creating jobs, saving Medicare and reducing the debt, Fitzgerald continues to run a negative smear campaign," said Buchanan spokesman Max Goodman. "How sad and disappointing that a New College professor entrusted with teaching our kids has sunk to this level."

Fitzgerald lost his House seat in 2010 to Ray Pilon, R-Sarasota.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.com.