MANATEE -- An Orlando-based political action committee supporting Republican candidates and with ties to a statewide Realtors group has sent some Manatee voters a mailer in which it promises to reveal whether they and their neighbors vote in next week's election.
In the mailer, Citizens for a Better Florida Inc. identifies whether the recipient's neighbors, by name, have voted in general elections dating back to 2010, with a promise to send a follow-up mailer after Tuesday's election identifying neighbors who did not vote.
The mailer states, "Every year, thousands of your neighbors failed to vote. We think it's too important. This year, we are providing the names of your neighbors and their voting record. The next time we send this mailer, we will include information on who voted in this upcoming November election."
Manatee Elections Supervisor Mike Bennett said he has received several complaints about the fliers.
Information on how a voter casts a ballot is not public record, but whether a voter exercises his or her individual right is. Bennett said the tactic is not illegal, but he questioned the morality of it.
"From my perspective, it's trying to embarrass people into voting and also from my perspective, I can imagine how upset people will be to have their neighbors know whether or not they voted," he said.
Asked if he believes this a form of voter intimidation, Bennett said, "The mailer says the next time we send this mailer, they will include information on who voted. That sounds kind of like a threat to me."
Callers to the elections office have assumed it was Bennett's office providing the information, but Bennett said no one has contacted his office for the information.
"It's a matter of public record," he said.
Because the mailers are tailored to individual neighborhoods to show each recipient what their immediate neighbors are doing or not doing, Bennett said, it must be an expensive endeavor.
According to the Florida Division of Elections, Citizens for a Better Florida formed in 2008 and has raised more than $2 million.
In October alone, the PAC raised $795,000, and spent all of it on "electioneering" and postage on behalf of Gov. Rick Scott and other statewide Republican candidates. None of the group's listed expenditures make reference to candidates or activity specifically in Manatee County.
All of that money collected by the group was contributed by the Realtors Political Advocacy Committee, which has the same address as Citizens for a Better Florida, according to the Division of Elections.
In the past month, the Realtors PAC collected almost $984,000 -- of which $795,000 came from the National Association of Realtors, based in Chicago.
When the Bradenton Herald attempted to contact Richard Darling, listed as chairman of Citizens for a Better Florida, the call connected to the offices of the Orlando-based Florida Realtors, which shares an address with the Realtors PAC and Citizens for a Better Florida. An operator transferred the Herald to the Florida Realtors public policy department, which had a voicemail identifying itself as Citizens for a Better Florida.
The voicemail stated, "We understand you may have received a mailer, please leave a message."
No one returned a request for comment as of Thursday night.
It was not clear how much of Manatee County is being targeted by the mailing, or if the effort is designed to benefit any particular candidate or political party.
The Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office said it had not heard of the fliers.
According to the Florida Division of Elections website, Citizens for a Better Florida has had some issues. In December 2013, the PAC received a letter from the Florida Department of State for filing its campaign treasurer's report 11 days late and was fined.
They had similar problems in 2012 when the PAC filed an incomplete campaign treasurer's report and failed to meet a seven-day deadline to amend the requested information. The Florida Department of State cited seven incidents of a missing expenditure and one potential invalid expenditure.
Mark Young, Herald urban affairs reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041 or follow him on Twitter @urbanmark2014.