Money contributed to the PAC has come from developers supporting her opponent in the Aug. 28 Republican Primary, Alan Maio
In the summer of 2014, Siesta Key resident Lourdes Ramirez and Nokomis resident Alan Maio were preparing to square off for the first time in a Republican primary for the District 4 seat on the County Commission. About a month before voters were to go to the polls, a right-wing blogger attempted to smear Ramirez.
Rich Swier Sr. wrote a blog post, accusing Ramirez of speaking to the dead. He mocked Ramirez for events she hosted in a shop she previously owned that was called Isle of Avalon. Between 2005 and 2010, when she operated it in the Cooper Creek shopping plaza on University Parkway, she hosted a variety of events there, including tarot card readings and spiritual channeling. In early August 2014, she told The Sarasota News Leader that those activities were not the focus of the shop. She explained that the store sold what she characterized as “inspirational products,” including books by self-help writer Wayne Dyer, along with soy candles and “peaceful” music.
Maio went on to defeat Ramirez 69.56% to 30.44% in the Republican primary that year, the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections reported.
When Ramirez decided in February of this year to take another shot at winning that District 4 seat, she told the News Leader that she was fully prepared for new attacks. Yet, in early August, she talked about how civil this election season had been for her.
The situation changed almost immediately after she made that observation.
On Aug. 8, the News Leader learned about a mailer had been sent out to registered Republicans in the county. The front said, “Lourdes Ramirez COMMUNICATES with the DEAD — For a Fee.” It added, “Profiting off of those who miss their loved ones.”
The back of the mailer said, “Let’s not forget [emphasis in the mailer], Lourdes would represent that she could communicate with the bereaved’s deceased loved one for a fee … Is there a limit to what she won’t do?”
The mailer said it was paid for by The Committee For A Better Florida Inc.
When the News Leader searched through political action committee (PAC) records maintained by the State of Florida, it found a list of 12 contributors to The Committee For A Better Florida since August of 2017.
One of the largest contributors was another PAC, The Responsible Leadership Committee Inc., which was down for $26,785. That contribution was made on March 16, the records say.
When the News Leader reviewed that PAC’s contributions, it found that Pat Neal of Neal Communities gave $100,000 to The Responsible Leadership Committee in September 2017.
Neal appeared before the County Commission several times over the past couple of years as he worked to gain board approval of his Grand Lakes development east of Interstate 75 and south of Clark Road, in an area where other Sarasota 2050 Villages have been planned. (See the related story in this issue.)
Among the other contributors to The Committee For A Better Florida this year were the following:
- Benderson Development Co. — $10,000.
- Frank Cassata — $5,000. Cassata manages the Sarasota real estate firm Myakka Ranch Holdings.
- Paul J. Bispham — $1,500. Bispham has been associated with a number of development companies in Sarasota County, including Serenoa Development Corp., state Division of Corporations records show.
- Pospiech Contracting of Inverness — $4,000. Pospiech handled construction site work for Neal Communities’ Grand Palm development in Venice, and it constructed the water and sewer systems for part of the Boca Royale Golf & Country Club in Sarasota, its website says.
- Joseph M. Neunder of Sarasota — $500. Neunder is a member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission.
Richard Pospiech, president of Pospiech Contracting; Pat Neal; Neal Communities; Bispham; and Neunder have been contributors to Maio’s re-election campaign, state records show.
The only contribution to The Committee For A Better Florida that was larger than the one from The Responsible Leadership Committee came from another PAC, Leadership for Florida’s Future. The amount was $27,530, which was recorded on Aug. 22, 2017.
A News Leader search of state campaign records found that Michael Millner of Jensen Beach is the treasurer of Leadership for Florida’s Future; that PAC was established in September 2014.
In an August 2016 article, the Sun Sentinel — a Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper based in Deerfield Beach — reported that Millner and his wife, Debbie, own and operate a company called Political Accounting Group. “It provides accounting services for Republican candidates and committees,” the Sun Sentinel added. “A review of campaign finance records shows Republicans spend thousands with the group, but no Democrats do,” the newspaper reported.
In an October 2013 article, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a mailer sent out in an effort to discredit a Democrat running for a Florida House seat. Millner also was the treasurer of the PAC that sent out that mailer: Citizens for Fairness.
Yet another smear campaign attributed to Leadership for Florida’s Future involved the 2016 re-election of the Orange County property appraiser, who was a Democrat, a Florida Politics story noted.