MANATEE -- Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie may have broken state election law when he paid "winner bonuses" to two political consultants during his 2012 re-election campaign, according to the Florida Elections Commission.
Chappie, who ran unopposed for the District 3 commission seat in 2012, violated two Florida statutes when he used campaign funds to make the payments, according to an order of probable cause filed Tuesday.
The Florida Elections Commission found probable cause to charge Chappie with four violations.
Chappie, a Republican, paid $5,000 in campaign funds as a "winner bonus" to Political Insights Inc. and $5,000 to Linda C. Cinque Inc. The payouts violated Section 106.11(5) and 106.19(1)(d) of Florida statutes, which do not allow candidates to use campaign funds to pay such bonuses to consultants.
The payments were made in June 2012 after it was clear Chappie would be unopposed for re-election to a second term on the commission.
Bucky Mitchell, Chappie's attorney, said the commission has to prove he willfully violated the law.
"We don't believe he violated Section 106," Mitchell said. "It is very common for candidates to pay winner bonuses to their consultants. We don't think there is a violation. ... Commission has to prove that he willfully violated and that he knew a winner bonus was illegal and did it anyway and they aren't going to be able to prove that."
The complaint filed by for
mer county Commissioner Joe McClash was heard by the Florida Elections Commission at its May 20 meeting in Tallahassee. McClash lost to Commission Chairwoman Betsy Benac in the District 7 at-large race in 2012.
"Based on the Complaint, Report of Investigation, Staff's Recommendation and oral statements made at the probable cause hearing, the Commission finds that there is probable cause to charge Respondent (Chappie)" with the violations, the order reads.
According to campaign finance disclosures, Chappie paid Cinque a total of $20,648.24, and Political Insights a total of $27,000, for consulting and other expenses during the 2012 campaign. Those amounts include the bonuses.
For his 2016 campaign, Chappie has not reported using the firms.
Chappie has three options:
Resolve the case by consent order, where he and commission staff agree to resolve the violations and the amount of the fine.
Request an informal hearing.
Request a formal hearing.
Chappie has 30 days from June 16, when the order was filed, to resolve the case by consent order or request a hearing.
Mitchell said Chappie is considering his options.
"What happens in many of these cases is it becomes a business decision for the respondent whether they want to pay a fine or spend a lot of money in representation," Mitchell said. "He's considering his options."
Chappie has raised $35,515 for his 2016 campaign. In 2012, he raised $78,134.