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By Pat Gillespie October 24, 2010

Florida House candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto accused of 105 election law violations

It seems like every other ad on television is a campaign attack. It must be election season.  

One advertisement that caught our attention was a claim by District 27 state Senate candidate Kevin Rader against his Republican opponent Lizbeth Benacquisto. 

Rader beat Democratic opponent Pete Burkert by about 1,000 votes in the Aug. 24, 2010, primary election. Rader and Benacquisto are vying for the seat vacated by Dave Aronberg, who lost the Democratic primary for attorney general in August. The district runs from Republican-heavy Lee County through rural Glades and Hendry counties and into Democratic-heavy Palm Beach County. 

During a recent television ad, Rader attacks Benacquisto for 105 Florida election law violations. The advertisement, which features a picture of Benacquisto and mathematical symbols and equations, includes this: 

"Let’s do the math on Lizbeth Benacquisto. She broke election law 105 times, hiding special interest contributors. She claims she’s a tax cutter, but on city council, she repeatedly raised taxes and fees, totaling a 52 percent tax increase. One hundred five ethics violations; 52 percent tax increase. We can’t afford Lizbeth Benacquisto, or believe her." 

That seems like a large number of violations, so we wanted to put Rader’s claim to the Truth-O-Meter test. 

The source for the ad is a Palm Beach Post article published April 9, 2006, and written by Dwayne Robinson. 

The article focuses on Wellington village council members and their myriad mistakes in campaign record filings during the March 14, 2006, municipal election in Palm Beach County. Benacquisto was elected vice mayor with more than 56 percent of the vote over challengers Julio Galvez and Jean Lexima. 

The Rader ad focuses on an allegation against Benacquisto that in more than 105 instances, her reports excluded the occupations of donors giving more than $100 to her campaign. The article states many of those donors "were developers, builders, Big Sugar and other special interests." 

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Florida law requires each report to contain the full name, address and occupation of anyone who has made a contribution, along with amount and date of such contribution.

Mercedes Kelly, then Benacquisto’s campaign treasurer, told the Post she started including contributors’ occupations at the beginning of the campaign, but trailed off as the money came in. She admitted to being overwhelmed and said she would be filing an addendum with the complete information.

According to 2006 campaign finance reports, Benacquisto filed addendums, writing by hand each person’s occupation for two filing periods, January through mid February and mid February through March. There were indeed builders and farmers, but also housewives, retirees and veterinarians. 

This was a situation where the same error was made 105 times, not 105 different types of errors. Still, Benacquisto had 108 contributors for 2006, so missing occupations on 105 of them meant nearly all her donors were not listed correctly.

For a third filing period, in 2005 but part of the same election cycle, no addendum was filed. In that 2005 period, occupations weren’t listed for 53 of the 78 contributors. 

The 2006 article points out that during a 2002 village election, Benacquisto had no election law errors and fully reported donors’ occupations. Since the municipal election was four years ago and the omissions were publicized, we were curious how Benacquisto was doing this time. We looked at her filings for the 2010 Senate race. We found that of 673 contributions to Benacquisto so far this year, 150 times the occupation isn’t listed, according to information on the Florida Division of Elections website. 

In fairness, we’ll note that in Rader’s last report, for the period of Sept. 25 through Oct. 8, he also fails to list occupation 14 times among the 104 donors, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Florida Election Commission Clerk Patsy Rushing said on Oct. 21 that no complaints have been filed against Benacquisto in this race. 

We’ll leave it up to you to determine whether there’s intent to leave off contributors’ names or just sloppiness by the campaign. 

But as for the truth of the matter, we rate Rader’s claim that Benacquisto "broke election law 105 times" as True.

Our Sources

Kevin Rader campaign, "Math Problem" campaign ad

Palm Beach Post, Wellington Campaign Contributions Eyed, April 3, 2006

Lizbeth Benacquisto Campaign Treasurer Report Summary for 2006 campaign, 11/7/05-12/31/05, 1/1/06-2/17/06, 2/18/06-3/9/06

Lizbeth Benacquisto Campaign Finance Contribution Records, Florida Division of Elections website

Kevin Rader Campaign Finance Contribution Records, Florida Division of Elections website

Florida Statutes, Chapter 106.08, limits on campaign contributions

Florida Statutes, Chapter 106.07, report filing requirements

E-mail interview with Jennifer Krell Davis, Florida Department of State spokeswoman, Oct. 21, 2010

Phone interview with Patsy Rushing, Florida Election Commission Clerk, Oct. 21, 2010

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Pat Gillespie

Florida House candidate Lizbeth Benacquisto accused of 105 election law violations

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