Wagman ordered to take down web ads

08/04/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Issues about political advertising on the internet are being raised after a complaint was made to the Florida Election Commission about Scott Wagman’s ads on Google and Facebook.

The St. Petersburg Mayoral candidate has been accused of violating state campaign laws because of links on those sites that don't indicate who is paying for them.

But as Wagman says, election law is unclear about these new wave of ads.

But Wagman has to decide whether it’s worth taking the time to fight the issue, when the 10 candidate race to replace Rick Baker is now reaching a fever pitch. Numerous debates are scheduled before the September Primary 1st primary election.

Wagman says he first learned that there was trouble with his ads about three weeks ago, when he received a certified letter from the Florida Elections Commission. He said he was presented with a couple of options on how to respond.

Dan Smith is an Associate Professor of Political Science and the Interim Director of the Political Campaigning Program at the University of Florida. He says there is definitely ambiguity in the state law, and believes the state legislature will need to address such link-through ads, which will probably only increase in the future.

The Florida Election Commission’s request for Wagman to pull down his web ads have already had a chilling effect. A candidate for the state legislature in District 47 named Christopher Mitchell began running search ads on Google last Friday, but pulled them down late Monday, after reading about Wagman in the Wall Street Journal.

University of Florida Political Science Professor Dan Smith said he thinks Wagman could have left his ads up.

The complaint was filed against Wagman by Peter Schorch, the somewhat notorious St. Petersburg-based political consultant, who was fired from Mayoral candidate Jamie Bennett’s campaign back in May. Schorch allegedly distributed baseball tickets along with a request for campaign contributions. Schorch had previously been convicted of grand theft.

But as far as Mayoral candidate Scott Wagman goes, the story has only boosted, not hurt, his campaign.

The next St. Petersburg Mayoral Debate takes place this Thursday night inside the City Council Chambers in City Hall from 7 to 8PM.

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