Candidates Playing Dirty
Campaign tricks range from the creative to the sinister.
Campaign season is also high season for dirty tricks. With Election Day around the corner, a roundup of some recent Sunshine State campaign shenanigans:
Too close for comfort
Opposition research is par for the course in the campaign arena, but an Escambia County man took it too far this past April, when he allegedly tried to enter the home of Karen Sindel, a member of the Escambia County Planning Board who is running for county commissioner. According to media reports, Mark Clabaugh, a 47-year-old "self-employed consultant" and supporter of one of Sindel's opponents, allegedly tried to enter Sindel's Pensacola home through a rear door. "What got my attention was the noise. The noise of somebody grabbing the door and shaking it hard. I looked up, and this person I'd never seen before had a camera pressed against the doors and was taking pictures."
Clabaugh has said he informed Sindel's opponent, George Touart, that he was going to Sindel's house the morning of the incident when the two were having breakfast, but Touart, a former Escambia County administrator, has denied that he sent him there.
Four days after the incident, Sindel noticed another man watching her house and called the police. A search of the car's license plate number showed the owner was a private investigator. Sindel says he stopped coming around after about a week, but the experience has left her shaken.
Trackers — videographers who follow candidates in hopes of catching an embarrassing gaffe on film — have become common among campaigners. But some candidates are taking issue with the paid operatives, whose behavior, they say, amounts to harassment. In June, state Sen. Al Lawson, a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress, snatched a camera from a tracker who showed up at a campaign rally outside his headquarters. The tracker, Ralph Mason, who works for incumbent Rep. Allen Boyd's (D) campaign, eventually got his camera back, and both sides claim the other was out of line. (Click here to see video of the incident.) Boyd's campaign claimed that Lawson committed a "theft" when he took the staffer's camera and filed a complaint with the Tallahassee police. Lawson retorted that Boyd's campaign had "crossed the line" by filming him on private property and said he'd press harassment charges. While the state attorney dismissed Boyd's complaint on a lack of "merit," grainy video footage of the incident remains.
State Sen. Carey Baker's abbreviated run for agriculture commissioner was dealt a low blow earlier this year when an audiotape appeared on YouTube in which he appears to be inviting someone to a fundraiser while commenting, "I know you've got some ... legislation that's moving through and will be coming through my committees." Baker says the tape's hint at a quid pro quo was false and that the audiotape, which has since disappeared from the internet, was manipulated and edited to sound that way. He dropped out of the race for agriculture commissioner shortly afterward.
"I was shocked beyond belief to have gone through some of what we've gone through — but the more shocking part is when your opponents try to explain to you that's just how politics are done."
— Karen Sindel
As Marc Johnson recently learned, political cybersquatting is an increasingly popular weapon in the campaign arsenal. The Lithia Republican, who challenged Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin in their primary race, fell victim to the tactic earlier this year when someone used the website domain votemarkjohnson.com to display a site identical to that of his opponent, Burgin. The website was tracked to Wildfire Marketing Group, which has earned $1,225 from the Burgin campaign. While it's unclear whether cybersquatting laws apply to political campaigns in the same way that they do to commercial ventures, the site has since been taken down.