Burton's fundraising appeals allowed under law
Despite Republican claims, Democratic sheriff candidate Lakesha Burton appears to have done nothing wrong when she told supporters they could donate the maximum amount to her campaign a second time.
Under Florida law, political campaigns can receive a maximum donation of $1,000 from any single individual per election, with a primary and general election counting as separate races, allowing up to $2,000 to be given with a max donation in both, a state spokesman told WJCT News on Thursday. The rule also applies to special elections, which have their own primary and general.
The advice from the Department of State clarifies one dispute in the hotly contested race between Burton and Republican T.K. Waters, the top two finishers in special election in August. The two candidates have sparred about Burton's fundraising as well as Waters' residency, which became an issue after previous Sheriff Mike Williams resigned this year.
Jacksonville holds elections for citywide constitutional offices like the mayor, sheriff, property appraiser and elections supervisor in off-years outside the presidential cycle, with the next to take place in 2023.
Burton had already begun fundraising for that election when Williams resigned, after revelations that he had moved outside Duval County, requiring a special election to fill the remainder of his term.
Following the announcement of a special election, the Burton campaign sent out an email to supporters telling them "even if you've already donated the maximum allowed ... you can now donate again for the upcoming special election, and we need you to do so."
In a statement days before the Aug, 23 primary, the Duval GOP distributed a news release accusing Burton's campaign of violating multiple election laws and calling her "Lawless Lakesha."
WJCT News emailed the Burton campaign the same day and asked if they had received legal advice from an attorney or guidance from election officials that donor caps had reset for the special election. Political consultant John Daigle responded on behalf of the campaign and acknowledged the questions but did not answer them.
The Burton campaign terminated its contract with Daigle on Friday, saying it was time to reevaluate after the primary election.
In a statement to Florida Politics, Daigle said "the decision was made based on allegations against the campaign in a complaint last month with the Florida Elections Commission."
After Daigle's departure, the Duval GOP released another statement calling on Burton to resign with her campaign's dismissal of the political consultant vindicating their claims of "shady campaign activity and unethical conduct."
However, it appears that donors who gave the maximum to Burton ahead of the 2023 unitary election were allowed to do so again for the special primary on Aug. 23 and will be able give the max amount again for the special Nov. 8 general election.
"Section 106.08(1)(a)3, Florida Statutes provides that candidates for countywide office in any election conducted on less than a countywide basis can make contributions of up to $1,000. Further down section 106.08(1)(c), statutes clarify that the contribution limits apply to each election and that the primary and general election are separate elections, so long as the candidate is not an unopposed candidate," Mark Ard, director of external affairs for FDOS, told WJCT News in an email.
"To simplify, as long as the candidate is not unopposed, the maximum of $1,000 per election (primary and general) are permitted in both the special election and 2023 election, as long as the candidate is running in both elections," he said.
After publication of this story, Burton emailed WJCT News a statement saying her campaign "totally abided campaign law" and thanked supporters for donating a second time.
"There is no doubt this was game-playing by the desperate Waters campaign," Burton said. "Once again, I call on Waters to stop the nonsense, come out of his glass house, wherever he lives, and let's compare our plans to make Jacksonville safe."
In a statement Thursday, the Duval GOP contended that it was still unclear whether the Burton campaign mixed funding raised for the 2023 race with donations for the special election. They also pointed to another component of the FEC complaint that alleged Burton's campaign illegally used hundreds of thousands of dollars through her political committee Make Every Voice Count.
"The Burton campaign refused to answer these allegations and Duval County voters deserve to know if their would-be sheriff conducted potentially illegal campaign activity," Dean Black, chairman of the Duval Republican Party, said. "I continue to call on Lakesha Burton to withdraw from the race."
Black declined to answer questions about his statement, including what violations he says were committed using Burton's PAC.
Burton and Waters will meet in a forum hosted by WJCT News and the Jacksonville Bar Association on Thursday evening. The event is at 6 p.m. at WJCT Studios, 100 Festival Park Ave., and will be streamed on the Jacksonville Today Facebook Page.