Letter tells voters they were ‘duped’ and ‘swindled’ by signing energy petition

Mailers targeting a proposed amendment that would deregulate the state’s monopoly utilities tell voters they were lied to and ask them to sign a slip to rescind their signature from the petition.
Mailers targeting a proposed amendment that would deregulate the state’s monopoly utilities tell voters they were lied to and ask them to sign a slip to rescind their signature from the petition. Provided to the Miami Herald

A Coral Gables-based political committee called Floridians for Truth is sending mailers to Floridians urging them to oppose a proposed constitutional amendment that would deregulate the state’s monopoly utilities — and telling them to “revoke” their signatures from the petition that would put the measure on the November 2020 ballot.

But that’s impossible. It’s been a decade since voters in Florida have been able to revoke a signature on a petition once they have signed it.

One of the organizers of the petition drive to get the amendment on the ballot — an amendment opposed by investor-owned utilities — said the letter is designed to “sow chaos.” And he blamed it on a political consultant who didn’t get a contract to run the statewide campaign.

“They want us to know that they are actively working against us,” said Alex Patton, who heads the group pushing the amendment, called Citizens for Energy Choices. He said he knew of instances where the mailers were sent to the Panhandle area, the Palm Coast area and Alachua County. A voter in Tallahassee also received one.

The consultant, Anthony Pedicini, said Monday that the letter is meant to inform voters. He called Patton’s comments “political theater.”

“The truth of it, the exact amendment language Alex Patton and his guys want to put through is failed language,” he said. “It will be devastating to the state of Florida, its economy and its people.”

The mailers, which paint energy deregulation in ominous tones, say that voters were told the amendment would provide “choice” when they signed the petition. “That was a bald-faced lie,” the mailers assert. The letter asks the recipient to fill out a slip of paper that demands removal of their signature from the petition.

“You’ve been duped. You’ve been fooled. You’ve been swindled,” the letter reads in bold letters. “The people that stole your signature were paid a small ransom to obtain it.”

The energy choice ballot initiative hires contractors to run a paid petition gathering operation. Temporary workers are paid hourly for their work.

At the end of the eight-page letter, the committee discloses that you cannot legally take back your signature, but that signing the form will “go a long way to letting the Supreme Court know you were lied to.”

The energy choice ballot initiative language was sent to the Supreme Court for approval — as are all citizen ballot initiatives — in March, but has yet to receive a final ruling.

A pre-addressed envelope is included. And the address is for the “Petition Revocation Division” on Ninth Avenue in Tampa — the address of a Republican consulting firm run by Pedicini and fellow operative Tom Piccolo.

Pedicini said he and Piccolo have received more than 1,000 signatures, and plan to “release them to the media” so voters understand what they are voting for.

Petition signatures are public record and can be requested on a county-by-county basis from election supervisors across the state.

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The Florida Division of Elections did not comment when asked about the legitimacy of the mailer, but a 2010 opinion from the Florida Supreme Court established the current law that does not allow voters to revoke their signatures on a petition to put an amendment on the ballot.

Figuring out who is behind the group Floridians for Truth isn’t simple. The political committee was formed in October 2018 and is funded solely by another political committee, called Building a Brighter Future for Florida. That committee is chaired by Piccolo.

In July, Piccolo’s committee received a large sum of money from another political committee called Citizens Alliance for Florida’s Economy. And Citizens Alliance is chaired by Pedicini.

Piccolo did not return requests for comment Friday.

Pedicini’s committee — Citizens Alliance — received a $10,500 in-kind donation for “meals and activities” from Florida Power & Light in August. He said the contributions were unrelated to the mailers.

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In January, advocacy group Southern Alliance for Clean Energy offered to run the energy choice campaign for a hefty monthly retainer with Pedicini as a consultant. Patton, chairman of the group running the energy choices initiative, rejected the overture.

He says Pedicini is lashing out in response.

“This goes back to a bigger thing that this a spat between consultants,” Patton said. “This is a consultant playing games. ... This is a political consultant extending a middle finger because he didn’t get a contract.”

Pedicini said he wasn’t part of the original proposal, but that he does work on behalf of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.

“And in no way would any consultant in the state of Florida say that I give the middle finger to anyone,” Pedicini added.

According to the Division of Elections website, as of Friday, Patton’s energy choice campaign — Citizens for Energy Choices — had validated about 460,000 of the 766,200 signatures needed to place the measure on the ballot. The proposal calls for the customers’ “right to choose” and would loosen the grip of private utility monopolies. It would allow customers to pick their electricity providers from a competitive market and give them more options to produce solar energy themselves.

This story was updated Monday evening with comments from Anthony Pedicini.

Samantha J. Gross is a politics and policy reporter for the Miami Herald. Before she moved to the Sunshine State, she covered breaking news at the Boston Globe and the Dallas Morning News.