The Dunedin robocall brawl – a sign of the declining Times

Allegedly “mysterious” robocalls criticizing the mayor were made this week in Dunedin, according to a Tampa Bay Times article today. However, a disclaimer at the end of the calls identified the source of the call as Main Street Leadership Council (MSLC), a Tallahassee political committee.

As the baseball World Series plays out, a different “Fall Classic” is playing out in baseball-centric Dunedin. Far from Wrigley Field in Chicago or Progressive Field in Cleveland, there’s nothing “progressive” about this ugly political fight which saw some brushback pitches today.

bujalski_city_website
Dunedin mayor Julie Bujalski

The Times article today, mayor Julie Bujalski accused her opponent Bruce Livingston of being behind the calls, saying that “it is a shame that my opponent, his contributors and supporters feel this is the best way to lead Dunedin into the future.”

However, had Livingston been behind the calls, Florida Law (see FS 106.1439) requires that he identify himself in a disclaimer. Livingston is not allowed to coordinate with third-party groups such as MSLC. More on MSLC later in this article.

“I don’t want to go down this rabbit hole – please connect the dots instead”, Bujalski told DunedinReporter.Com (DR) today when asked about MSLC and who might behind the robocalls. “If my opponent has nothing to do with this, then he should publicly denounce the robocalls because his constituents are being attacked. He is a sitting city commissioner and the Bujalski family are also his constituents.”

City Commissioner Bruce Livingston
Dunedin city commissioner Bruce Livingston

“My opponent’s supporters continues to make accusations without proof, and the Times reporter continues to print them”, Livingston told DR today. “I’d never even heard of MSLC or Florida Roundtable before you mentioned them just now.”

The Times article said that the robocall’s “comments held striking resemblance to two posts made on a Facebook page for a group called Citizens for a Better Dunedin.” But the charge that the mayor used the city as her “credit card” was also made in September 15 letter from resident Dave Pauley to the mayor. No mention of Pauley’s letter was made in the Times’ article.

“No, that’s not my style”, Pauley told DR when asked if he had anything to do with the robocalls. “The Times’ reporter called me, too. She asked if I was a Livingston supporter and I said ‘yes, and the robocall was factually correct’. After that, she may have asked if I was behind the robocall, but I don’t recall if she did. But it wasn’t me.”

Matt Florell is the owner of Fextel, Inc. in St. Petersburg, a company which performs polling and carries out campaigns involving automated calls (robocalls). Florell told DR that federal FCC rules apply apply to all calls, including political robocalls. For example, cellphones cannot be called, and text messages can’t be sent by campaigns, either, without permission from the recipient of those communications.

Florell said that the laws involving  are badly written, with weak enforcement, and special treatment of special interests. Florell, a vocal critic of red-light camera programs, has been very successful in convincing cities in Pinellas County to shut down such programs.

robocall-cartoonIn this election cycle in Florida, MSLC has received $985,000 in contributions from various organizations, including the $290,000 from Florida Roundtable. The latter calls itself “a public policy think tank which works to identify and support philosophically conservative ideals and candidates.” Florida Roundtable was founded by incoming Florida House speaker Richard Corcoran (R – Land O’Lakes).

The Florida Division of Elections lists MSLC as an “Electioneering Communications Organization”. DR called the number listed there, and reached their accounting firm where a representative gave us a different number. MSLC did not respond to our repeated calls requesting confirmation of their involvement, and comments.

While the person(s) that got MSLC to make these calls may never be known, one thing is clear: the only way Livingston could have had anything to do with these calls is if he broke the law. Livingston has already said that he had nothing to do with the robocalls, and reiterated that statement to DR.

The Times article made the tendentious claim that the calls “harped” on personal issues, spoke only to a friend and supporter of Bujalski for a citizen reaction to the calls, and did not mention that MSLC was the entity behind the calls. But the weak reporting by the Times isn’t Bujalski’s fault. Or Livingston’s.

Links to the campaign websites of Bujalski and Livingston are hereby provided as a public service to our readers. The Times endorsed Bujalski for mayor in 2014, whereas DR has endorsed no candidate. Do your own research and please do vote!

As always: DR reports, and the readers decide. Please like our Facebook page to learn when we publish new articles.

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2 thoughts on “The Dunedin robocall brawl – a sign of the declining Times

  1. Well done Tom. I think the voters of Dunedin will connect the dots between these bothersome robo calls and the candidate. This is the second time Mr. Livingston is under scrutiny for possibly breaking the law. The last time it was for violating the Sunshine Law.

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