From the Orlando Sentinel:
State Senate special election takes a racial turn
Direct-mail piece warns of 'armed thugs' and Black Panthers at the polls Sept. 15
TALLAHASSEE - A stealthy group called the Conservative Voters' Coalition is sending out absentee-ballot requests that claim the Black Panthers, MoveOn.org, and ACORN might get involved in the state Senate District 8 primary on Sept 15.
The direct-mail piece that started arriving in mail boxes late last week warns Republicans that "armed thugs may try and scare you away from the voting booth."
The mailer pictures President Barack Obama and makes the accusation that he "let the Black Panthers get a free pass for intimidating voters on Election Day" and asks "Is this the change YOU want to believe in? Violence and intimidation at the voting booth."
There are five GOP candidates in the primary, including former House Speaker John Thrasher and state Rep. Stan Jordan, but only one is black: Jacksonville City Councilman Art Graham, who told the Jaxpoliticsonline.com blog that he did not feel the people behind the mailer "give the voters enough credit."
The lobbyist who helped set up the so-called 527 group is Tallahassee lawyer David Ramba, who registered its paperwork two weeks ago with the IRS and does political work for a number of Republican legislators.
Ramba would only say he was hired to create the group by a Florida State University adjunct instructor named Erin Dicesare, who would be listed as its chairperson. She could not be immediately reached for comment, and Ramba said he had no idea who was paying for the mailers.
"I don't know who she's fronting for," Ramba said, adding "It's a clean mailer. It's legal."
"I can't really tell what their strategy is other than getting Republicans out to vote," he said. "I don't think it's racial."
The Florida Democratic Party, though, blasted the mailer Monday as "race-baiting" and called on Republicans to condemn it.
"The Republicans behind the Conservative Voters' Coalition should be ashamed of themselves for their disgusting race-baiting, which is nothing more than gutter politics at its worst," said party spokesman Eric Jotkoff.
Under Florida law, such groups no longer have to report their financial activities to the state Division of Elections. A federal judge earlier this year struck down the state's electioneering communications law as a 1st Amendment violation. Such elections groups must still register with the IRS, but won't have to report their contributions until next year -- long after the special election is over.
Jacksonville has been ground-zero in the past to claims of racially based "voter-caging" to keep black voters from casting ballots.
The election was spurred after the death earlier this month of state Sen. Jim King, R-Jacksonville. The legislative district hugs the Atlantic coastline from Nassau County down into northern Volusia.
Since no Democrat filed and a write-in candidate did, the election will be decided by GOP primary voters. Democrats and independents, though, could switch parties before the primary to vote, and Graham's Web site encourages them to do so.
The race has already sparked a bit of controversy with trial lawyer-aligned 527 political groups taking out ads bashing Thrasher. He responded with his own 527 rebuttal attacking trial lawyers.
Thrasher campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom said their campaign was "absolutely" not affiliated with the Conservative Voters' Coalition group and that the mailer "raises serious concerns about what this group is going to do with these requests after they receive them." The mailer asks voters to send the absentee forms to a Post Office box instead of the county Supervisor of Elections.
Aaron Deslatte can be reached at 850-222-5564, or at [email protected]