Newly-elected Vero Beach City Councilman Harry Howle’s final campaign finance reports raise at least one question about whether he complied with both the letter and the spirit of Florida elections laws. Those laws require candidates to make payment for all goods and services, “upon final delivery and acceptance of the goods and services.”
At least half a dozen post cards were mailed out by Howle’s campaign before October 29. As of that date, though, Howle reported only $3,712.47 in total expenses. Either the cost of graphic design, printing and postage for Howle’s many mailers was incurred on credit, or the expenses were paid by someone acting on Howle’s behalf.
In a report submitted November 30, Howle listed a payment of $13,458.44 to Frontline Strategies, a Tallahassee-based political consulting group. At least according to Howle’s financial reports, it appears that on his behalf Frontline Strategies paid the cost of campaign expenses for which the consulting group was later reimburses. By paying expenses for Howle, Frontline Strategies essentially made what would appear to be unreported loans to his campaign. Any ultimate determination will have to be rendered by the Florida Election’s Commission. (Howle’s political mailers included a disclaimer claiming they had been paid for by his campaign.)
Howle’s financial reports also reveal that his campaign accepted $1,000 in contributions after the deadline of October 29. Those contributions were later reimbursed.
Last year, the Florida Election Commission fined Howle for making specific reference to political party affiliation in Vero Beach’s 2014 non-partisan municipal election. The Commission is charged with enforcing the law, but may do so only in response to a complaint filed by a citizen. To date, no complaints have been filed against Howle for the handling of expenses in his latest campaign.