VOTESMARTFLORIDA--VOTER INFO OR CORPORATE SHILL?-Andrew Stelzer06/20/06
Tuesdays Suncoast Tiger Bay Club luncheon was one of the most sparsely attended of the year, but ended up being one of the most controversial. The speaker was Sheri Vicari, the director of votesmartflorida.org, a website which claims to be an objective source of information about constitutional amendments on the Florida ballot. But a column in todayâ€™s St Pete Times disputed the validity of the site, and set the stage for a skeptical audience. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer reports.
ACT-Troxler â€?what we have is a group that lots saying people are to dumb..â€?
Thatâ€™s St Petersburg Times Columnist Howard Troxler, who wrote a column in Tuesdayâ€™s paper calling voetsmartflorda.org a bogus objective group, operating as a front for the Florida chamber of Commerce and several other business groups. Troxlerâ€™s column was the first thing that votesmartflroridas director, Sheri Vicari spoke about when she began her speech to the tiger bay club.
ACT â€œI know that most of you have seen Troxlers column. I subscribe to the times, sometimes he gets it right, this time I have to say other than the spelling of my name its misleadingâ€¦â€?
But Vicari didnâ€™t specify what about Troxler's column was misleading. Instead she gave the group of about 40 people a broad overview of what Floridians should expect constitutional amendment process, and described her group as a non-partisan group just trying to get the facts out to the people.
ACT â€œBefore our site, the only place was TV and billboards..nowhere for people to go for factsâ€¦103 amendments..we remember pregnant pigs..TV commercial, or dolphins or net..it wasnâ€™t pigs, we have now come to learn, it was an environmental issue..voters are as smart as info they have..â€?
Vicari said that votesmart.org doesnâ€™t take positions but only presents the facts on what the ramification of the amendments really are, along with who is funding them, and who is for and against them. During the question and answer session, numerous questions were asked about votesmartflorida.org, such as who funds it, and who controls it. Vicari's answers to most of the questions were vague, and she repeated many if the same phrases used in her speech about providing information to voters.
ACT â€œThe Fl chamber, Fl realtors put it together..they had a 3-fold message, they realized it was too much they have very specific points votesmart broke off to a voter education campaign..we are not lobbying or political..on funding we get from business and corps..â€?
Vicari was also asked whether she would allow the league of women voters to review the votesmartflorida voting guide before it went out, and why the voting guide they put out isnâ€™t good enough.
ACT â€œWeâ€™ve heard form people that are looking for an org..it takes more than 1 to get the word out..yet another sourceâ€?
When asked who hired her, Vicari would only say that there are more than 60 groups who came together, some of them are funders of www.votesmartflorida.org, and other are only called supporters. Said she is the only paid employee, there is no board of directors, and the organization runs on a budget of less than 100,000 a year. After the speech WMNF spoke to Joan Deguire, a board member of the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club.
ACT â€?I think its an attempt to sway the voters, I ran a lost of all her employersâ€¦chambers of commerce..for profit orgs, for every city in the state so obviously they have an agenda..I found it insulting the voters know the issues, by the time, most voters know very well..â€?
St Pete times columnist Howard Troxler responded to Vicariâ€™s accusation that his column was misleading.
ACT-Troxler â€?she didnâ€™t point out any specifics.. I think sheâ€™s sincere, but the group, if you look at list of members..itâ€™s a list of business groups, higher minimum wage, restaurant, it was created by business groups and we need to gall citizens into giving up power..â€?
Troxler told WMNF that the groupsâ€™ real agenda is to undermine the citizenâ€™s ability make laws, and ultimately to protect the cozy relationship between developers and politicians.
ACT-Troxler â€œThereâ€™s a resentment n Tallahassee, and a fear, they fear this may be taken to the ultimate is hometown democracy, thatâ€™s citizens being able to control directly growth, so if you took away the powerful council to say yes for contributions, you would see a dramatic change..â€?
Vicari told WMNF that she alone is the one who determines what gets printed in the groupâ€™s voter guide.
ACT-me and Vicari â€œYou spoke about voter guide.. IM NOT FAMILIAR WITH THEIR VOTER GUIDE youâ€™ve never heard of them YES I DO I donâ€™t know what it contains.. Do you want the state to print a guide Would you support Florida putting out a guide It would be good.. GROUP OF 60 Anybody could join, they support it, and we want to support Grassroots is our biggest distribution system..â€?
Neil Brickfield, who also attended the speech, said he was impressed by Vicari, and dint think bringing up the League of Women was a valid way to criticize votesmartflordia
ACT- â€œThe League of Women Voters is not non partisan they want to eliminate all guns. I think she did an excellent job..â€?
To view the website for yourself, log onto www.votesmartflorida.org
For WMNF news, Iâ€™m Andrew Stelzer