Marco City Council candidate accused of campaign finance violations
Less than one month from this year’s Marco Island City Council election, a candidate is facing allegations of campaign finance violations after a complaint was filed with the Florida Elections Commission less than two weeks ago.
The complaint alleges that Jerry Swiacki committed five violations of state statutes in failing to follow multiple requirements for political advertisements and not properly coding and reporting campaign expenses.
A copy of the complaint, dated Oct. 2 and filed by Marco Island resident Richard Smith, was provided to the Naples Daily News and Marco Eagle. Under state law, the Florida Elections Commission cannot confirm receipt of the complaint until the commission makes a determination of probable cause. A courier service receipt verified that the complaint had been submitted.
Swiacki said he has nothing to hide and referred to the complaint as the latest attempt to smear his name.
“We’re supposed to be a nice community that works together,” Swiacki said.
Swiacki is one of five candidates running for three positions on the Marco Island City Council. The other candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot are Erik Brechnitz, Jim Richards, Sam Young and incumbent Victor Rios.
Swiacki said he had not been served the complaint yet and was unaware of it until the Naples Daily News/Marco Eagle approached him about the allegations.
“As far as I know, we’ve done everything right,” Swiacki said. “If something is out of place, nothing was intentional or nefarious.”
Allegation No. 1
The first allegation in the complaint stems from Swiacki’s failed election bid two years ago. The complaint alleges that in October 2016, Swiacki ran a political advertisement in the Coastal Breeze News but failed to provide a political disclaimer as required by state law.
Additionally, the complainant estimated the advertisements should have cost $800 based on the Coastal Breeze News noncontract ad rates from 2016, but Swiacki reported a $500 expenditure on his expense form.
“Either the Coastal Breeze News was giving favorable treatment to Mr. Swiacki by altering their rates and (policies) to benefit him over other candidates, in which case an in-kind contribution from the Coastal Breeze News should have been listed (and wasn’t), or Mr. Swiacki failed to disclose and report who paid the remaining $300,” the complainant wrote in an accompanying narrative statement.
Valerie Simon, the publisher of the Coastal Breeze, wrote in an email that all political candidates are charged using its annual rates. The rate for using that methodology was $500, which refutes the allegations against Swiacki.
In paying for the advertisement, the complaint questioned whether Swiacki had enough funds in his account at the time of the advertisement purchase or if he misreported the date of the transaction. State law prohibits expenditures if there are not sufficient funds to cover the costs.
Allegation No. 2
In Swiacki’s campaign finance reports, the complaint alleges that the wrong code is continuously used for expenditures.
Up until the most recent report, marked received by the city of Marco Island on Oct. 4, the code CAN, which is for candidate expense, is used, when the code MON, monetary expense, was the proper code.
All candidates and treasurers were informed of this in an Aug. 17 email from City Clerk Laura Litzan.
“A former (expert) campaign treasurer noticed that the treasurer reports were using an incorrect on the itemized expenditures — using CAN as an expenditure type when MON should be used,” Litzan wrote. “In reviewing the reports, I agree that MON is likely what was intended.”
A campaign finance form provided to candidates also notes that the CAN code “refers to a contribution made to a candidate’s campaign by an entity (PAC, PAP, PTY)” and is not applicable to Marco Island City Council candidates.
Despite being informed of the error, Swiacki’s campaign treasurer reports submitted on Sept. 5 and 20 use the same codes.
In the report submitted Oct. 4, the CAN codes were crossed off and replaced with MON codes.
Before Litzan's email, Swiacki was not alone in using the incorrect code. However, after Litzan’s Aug. 17 email, all of the other candidates' reports reflected the use of the correct code.
Allegation No. 3
The third allegation of campaign violations refers to a Sept. 12 joint event with fellow candidate Richards at CJ’s on the Bay.
In Richards’ treasurer report, he included a reimbursement of $101.75 to his wife, Allyson, for the event. For the same period, Swiacki did not report the expenditure.
“If the case was that Ms. Richards paid for the event in full and did not ask for reimbursement from the Swiacki campaign, then the in-kind donation from Ms. Richards for Swiacki’s half of the $101.75 total expense should have been reported,” the complaint reads.
After reading these allegations, Swiacki said he tried to contact both the Richards campaign and treasurer to make sure all expenses were accounted for.
Swiacki said his campaign has reimbursed the Richards campaign for every invoice it has received.
At the Florida Citizens’ Alliance Oct. 3 candidate forum, Richards stated that he and Swiacki were not a slate.
Similar to what is contained in the complaint, Swiacki and Richards jointly advertised two events on Aug. 7 and 21 that included political disclaimers.
While split costs for the Aug. 7 event at DaVinci Ristorante Italiano were reported on both candidates' treasurer forms, an Aug. 21 meet and greet at Starbucks was not. The Richards campaign reported paying $82.13 for half of the Aug. 21 bill.
Allegation Nos. 4 and 5
Swiacki has also been accused of failing to disclose advertising expenses to the Coastal Breeze on multiple occasions.
The complaint alleges an advertisement for the aforementioned event on Sept. 21 was run in the Sept. 14 edition of the Coastal Breeze, but Swiacki’s treasurer reports do not include any expenditures.
Additionally, a political advertisement for Swiacki appeared in the Sept. 28 edition of the Coastal Breeze without a disclaimer required by state law.
Swiacki said the lack of disclaimer was attributable to human error by the printing service that forwarded the advertisement to the Coastal Breeze.
Expenses for Swiacki’s Sept. 28 advertisement were also absent from his treasurer’s report. The Coastal Breeze requires payment up front for advertisements, and for the ad to have been published on that date, it would have needed to be scheduled by Sept. 20, according to the newspaper's ad schedule. Swiacki was required to do the same, as were all political candidates.
In an email to the Naples Daily News/Marco Eagle, Simon wrote: “Jerry Swiacki has been charged exactly what every political candidate has been charged. The Swiacki campaign pays for all ads in advance as every political ad is required to do.”
Simon also wrote that she’d “be more than happy to supply the transaction histories for any candidate's advertising to the Florida Elections Commission.”