A political action committee linked to Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry is throwing jabs at his top mayoral competitor Anna Lopez Brosche with a negative TV ad that started airing in late December, before she filed to run against him.
Brosche, a current Group 1 at-large City Council member and former council president, filed and qualified to run against Curry on January 11.
Watch: Curry PAC Ad Against Brosche
The ad, sponsored by the political committee Jacksonville on the Rise, make three specific attacks against Brosche regarding her voting record:
Charge 1: She approved her own salary increases.
Charge 2: She attempted to block hurricane relief funds that would help Northwest Jacksonville.
Charge 3: She voted to get rid of term limits “for politicians.”
On WJCT’S First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross Monday, Brosche said the claims about her were “a desperate attempt by desperate folks to spread misinformation, to put out half truths to confuse the public.”
The ad said Brosche voted “to remove term limits for politicians.”
In 2017 the Jacksonville City Council considered a bill that would have let voters decide whether to extend the limits on local officials’ terms in office, WJCT News reported on August 22, 2017.
Ultimately the bill failed 11-6, with Brosche one of the six in favor.
On First Coast Connect, Brosche said, “I voted to support a resolution to allow the people to decide the term limits. I would have never gone and just done that.”
Related: City Elections Voters' Guide
Jacksonville public officials can serve two consecutive four-year terms. If City Council had passed the bill, voters could have granted them the ability to run for an extra term, for 12 consecutive years instead of eight.
The ad states Brosche “tried to block hurricane relief funds for Northwest Jacksonville,” sourcing a story from First Coast News.
As WJCT News reported, Brosche and her council colleague Garrett Dennis held a meeting to hear the public's’ concerns about nearly $2.8 million the city had received from the United Arab Emirates. Some people at the meeting called the grant “blood money,” referencing the UAE’s poor human rights record.
Along with the rest of Council, Brosche had already approved accepting the money earmarked for hurricane relief, much of which would go to a hard-hit Northwest Jacksonville neighborhood. But she had second thoughts, filing a resolution bill in September urging Curry’s administration to give the money back.
Her bill referenced the public's concerns along with “UAE’s desire to maintain a low profile during the awarding process,” and that “sufficient post-appropriation circumstances and events have arisen calling into question the prudence of accepting a grant from a foreign government when the Council believes that the City can and should provide funding for the projects and programs awarded the Embassy funding.”
Brosche eventually withdrew the resolution.
The ad said Brosche “voted to raise her own pay twice,” sourcing a Florida Politics article from September 27, 2017, the day council voted on the city budget.
City Council unanimously approved the city’s $1.27 billion dollar budget, which included restoring council members’ salaries’ to what they would have been paid before 2010. As WJCT reported, that’s when council members made the decision to lower their salaries after other city employees took a pay cut that year.
Curry sent a memo out that night saying he did not support pay raises for elected officials.
“I have asked Council to consider an amendment to the budget tonight that ensures my salary as mayor will not be increased one cent more than it was on the day I took office,” he said.
Council members then passed that amendment to clarify Curry would not be getting a raise, as they would.
The ad stated Brosche voted to raise her own pay twice — the second time referring to a withdrawn 2015 bill that called for the restoration of pay, the same idea that was eventually passed, unanimously, in 2017.
On November 2, 2015, Brosche was on the Finance Committee when she voted in favor of the bill, a 2 percent pay increase. That bill never passed.
Jacksonville on the Rise
WJCT News tried reaching the PAC behind the ad, Jacksonville on the Rise, but its listed chairman and treasurer Eric Robinson, repeatedly denied any knowledge of the committee.
Robinson, a certified public accountant, was also listed as the contact for Curry’s now closed Build Something that Lasts PAC and dozens of other Florida political committees, according to the Florida Division of Elections. He was duped last year in a scheme that cost Build Something that Lasts $120,000, as our partner The Florida Times-Union reported.
The Duval County Election Supervisor’s office confirmed to WJCT News that Robinson is the only listed agent for Jacksonville on the Rise. The committee is not included in the state’s campaign finance database. An elections office spokeswoman said political committees don’t necessarily have to register with the state if their primary concern is political activity in a single county or city.
The Role of Political Committees
Political committees can collect and spend money on behalf of candidates or on behalf of a specific issue.
“They essentially offer candidates, particularly at the local level, a means to get around what campaign finance laws restrict individual donors from giving to candidates,” said Florida State College at Jacksonville political science Professor Daniel Cronrath.
He said there are no caps on the amount a political committee can give a candidate, and often the PACs are not transparent in terms of why they exist, who set them up and on whose behalf they are advocating.
Cronrath added, “Direct participation is allowed by the candidate into ads which are being run by the political committee. On the national level, federal law prohibits direct coordination between a political action committee and the candidate. Florida law does not, so whenever you see an ad which is being run by a political committee — say, the mayor’s Jax on the Rise PAC — he has the ability to directly contribute to that process of making those ads.”
Cronrath said that means political committees can be “a direct vehicle” for candidates, with nothing preventing them from deciding who to take money from, where to spend money, or where to allocate support for other candidates.
More Fact Checks To Come
A second ad called “Absent Anna Brosche,” also from Jacksonville on the Rise, was released this week. WJCT News is working to fact check its claims. WJCT will also fact check other ads in support of or against all major candidates in the Jacksonville city elections.