Campaign finance questions persist ahead of Marco City Council election
If a formal complaint to the Florida Elections Commission wasn't enough, questions revolving around campaign finance irregularities persist for two of the five Marco Island City Council candidates ahead of Tuesday's election.
In addition to a complaint made by Richard Smith against Dr. Jerry Swiacki, both Swiacki and Jim Richards' reported advertisement expenses in the Coastal Breeze do not account for all of the ads placed in the newspaper.
Swiacki and Richards are joined by incumbent Victor Rios and fellow candidates Erik Brechnitz and Sam Young in seeking office. The top-3 vote-getters Tuesday will win the election.
In Smith's complaint filed last month, several allegations of campaign finance violations were made including failing to disclose advertising expenses after ads were already run in the newspaper.
Coastal Breeze Publisher Valerie Simon had said that all candidates were charged using the annual rate and required to pay upfront yet Swiacki's treasurer report did not have advertisement expenses for it at the time.
This led to the conclusion that either ads were being floated or the expenses were not being reported accurately.
Since then, Swiacki declared on Oct. 9 that he paid $1,025 for advertisements. However, based upon the annual ad rate, Swiacki should have been charged $1,175 based upon splitting an ad with Richards on Sept. 14, half-page ads on Sept. 28 and Oct. 12 and two half-page ads in its Oct. 26 edition. If the treasurer report was accurate, it would indicate that Swiacki did not pay upfront for his ads.
Similar to Swiacki, Richards' treasurer reports do not include the amounts he should have paid to Coastal Breeze.
To date, Richards has paid $550 to the Coastal Breeze, including reporting an expense on Nov. 1, two weeks after payment would have been due for his Oct. 26 advertisement. Richards' treasurer reports also do not include splitting the cost of an advertisement for a joint BBQ event with Swiacki in September. Based upon the current ad rates, the quarter page ad would have run $150, or $75 per each candidate.
By comparison, another candidate was required to pay upfront for advertisements well in advance of publication.
Brechnitz paid for and included in his treasurer reports an expense to the Coastal Breeze for $4,275 that was paid for in July.
Adding to the confusion, a copy of an Oct. 31 invoice for Brechnitz was sent to the Marco Eagle in which it shows a zero balance was due on Nov. 30 despite the fact that his expenses were paid for well in advance.
For Swiacki, there appears to be a history of misreporting expenses with respect to advertisements.
Not only was Swiacki's newspaper advertisement for his 2016 campaign reported after the fact, ads for the Our City, Our Ambulance Political Action Committee were done so as well.
Swiacki served as chairman of the PAC, which attempted to increase and improve emergency medical services in the city through a referendum but failed at the polls.
Advertisements for the PAC appeared in the Aug. 3 and 17 editions of the Coastal Breeze yet payments from the PAC's bank account were not reported until Aug. 28.
In both treasurer reports as a city council candidate and as chairman of the PAC, Swiacki certified that the treasurer reports were accurate.
Falsely certifying the correctness of a treasurer report if it is known that it is incorrect, false or incomplete, is a 1st degree misdemeanor according to the Florida Department of State Division on Elections. It is also a violation of state law to deliberately withhold campaign financing information that is required to be reported.