One of the candidates for State Attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit has been accused of breaking the law at a recent fundraising event. At the campaign event, of which Crowley posted video footage on his campaign Facebook page, Crowley can be seen promoting a “50/50” raffle (like a split the pot), for which tickets are being sold. He specifically states the tickets are to raise money for the campaign. This is problematic for several reasons.
The first problem is with doing any raffle or other lottery-type promotion… it’s illegal under most circumstances (Fla. Stat. Sec. 849.09). There is an exception for registered non-profit organizations: a 501(c) is allowed to do a raffle if they follow state law. That’s why you frequently see them at sporting events; the Red Sox, Twins, or whoever, does the event through their charitable foundation, which is permissible under state law. However, an election campaign is not one of those exceptions, and a raffle would qualify as a lottery, which is a third degree felony under Florida law. It may have been inadvertent, but this is a big problem for Mr. Crowley, contrary to his protestations that the complaint is a political stunt.
The second problem is that it runs afoul of campaign finance regulations. As NBC-2 points out, it’s clear on page 69 of the candidate handbook that raffles are not appropriate, and the handbook then specifically refers to the lottery statute, Sec. 849.09. Another reason for that is that all contributions must be identified, recorded, and reported under Florida law. That’s such a basic tenet of state campaign rules that it is disappointing that Mr. Crowley would be oblivious to it. He indicates that he called the ethics line and returned the money to the event organizer without depositing it. That’s a good remedial step, but it does not undo the initial error. Crowley has already been fined several times for late treasurer reports for his campaign, as well.
Crowley says to NBC that the complaint is a stunt by his opposition. It’s not. Steve Russell, the outgoing State Attorney, didn’t run out an file charges against Crowley, which he probably would be entitled to do. Instead, he referred it to FDLE, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, to conduct an independent investigation, and recused himself, as he should have. Crowley is incorrect that he can botch things up and try to pawn it off as fake news. This mistake is real, and it is serious, and Crowley posted the video of himself advertising the 50/50 raffle.
Further, Crowley tries to counter by touting an ethics complaint filed by his friend against Ms. Fox. He keeps saying she is under investigation… but NBC found a letter from the FEC indicating that the complaint they received was legally insufficient, and that the case was closed. It is a political stunt to get your friend to file an unsupported ethics complaint, and then to KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT, even if nothing has come from the investigation. This raises serious issues regarding Mr. Crowley’s lack of trustworthiness. On the other hand, kudos to Ms. Fox for taking the high road and declining to discuss the allegations against her opponent, which are much more serious.
I don’t think felony charges are appropriate for what appears to be an inadvertent, and relatively minor, campaign violation for which he returned the money. For now, it is up to FDLE to conduct their investigation. I am a lot more concerned about what this says about the judgment of the person running to be the highest law enforcement officer in Southwest Florida.