Marco councilor's official response to election complaint contradicts public statement
Fifteen months ago, Marco Island City Councilor Larry Honig downplayed his connection to a political website containing commentary about the actions of the city's embattled police department, citizens, fellow council members and candidates.
Honig admitted owning the website, Marcopolitics.com, but said he was not involved in its operation or the posting of materials, which some decried as inflammatory and inappropriate.
While an official Florida Elections Commission complaint was dismissed for being legally insufficient last year, in his formal response to the allegations, Honig's statement contradicted ones he had made publicly as he admitted to curating the website.
"I am the only person providing content," Honig wrote. "There was no coordination of any kind with any candidate or campaign."
Honig called the revelation a "non-story and very old."
"I never denied owning the Marco Politics website, whose content was actual videos from public meetings of politicians and candidates who do not want to be held accountable for their words and actions," he wrote in a statement to the Naples Daily News. "Regina Dayton has cost Marco Island taxpayers over $250,000 on frivolous complaints against several councilors and city employees — and all of them have been dismissed."
Dayton filed the complaint against Honig in December 2018 after he was revealed as the owner of the domain.
The website posted newspaper articles and City Council videos before offering its own commentaries.
The targets were often council candidates Dr. Jerry Swiacki and Jim Richards, as well as current and former City Councilors Howard Reed, Joe Batte and Bob Brown.
The domain's registrant was only listed as Domains by Proxy, an internet company offering privacy services. The owner's name was released after copyright concerns were reported when newspaper articles were posted without expressed authorization.
Honig would admit to being the owner of multiple domains but said he provided it to other people who had wished to remain anonymous so that they could exercise their First Amendment rights.
"I own the domain, but I am not responsible for the website creation or the content," Honig previously told the Daily News. "I own dozens of Marco-related domain names (including marcocouncil.com, marcogossip.com, marcochat.com) and was approached by a group of citizens interested in using this one specifically.
"I let them take over the site. This group is concerned about corruption in the government and abuses in the police department, and they are afraid of retribution. Many of them have already been targeted."
Honig would be confronted after the November election by Marco Island resident Ray Seward, who was also attacked on the website.
“My name is Ray Seward, better known to this Council or former Council as ‘crusty old citizen,’” Seward said. “[...] There were a number of people insulted by this article and the owner of this article was Larry Honig.
“He has insulted three of the Council members or former Council members and I’ve never heard of anything like that. Because they disagreed with what you had to say, you insulted them.”
Honig again defended his actions at a Council meeting. He called the attacks on him a "red herring," deflecting from the actual wrongdoing of those criticized by the website.
But the statements he made were inconsistent with what he wrote in response to the complaint.
Dayton filed the complaint against Honig shortly after the November 2018 election and alleged numerous violations of Florida statutes.
The allegations included, but were not limited to, violations pertaining to malicious statements against opposing candidates, misusing his position and electioneering.
While he did admit to curating the website, Honig wrote that he did not feel what he did amounted to anything illegal. He noted he acted as a private citizen and the website offered only one-way communication.
Honig responded to each alleged statute violation, notating why they did not apply to him.
He said he believed the website content was protected speech under the First Amendment.
A reviewer of the complaint agreed.
"The redlined editorial contained political analysis, fact-checking, opinion, and name-calling," the reviewer wrote. "However, in my opinion, it did not include anything that would amount to more than free political speech."
The FEC's response also said the complaint was "based on hearsay within hearsay."
"Complainant's sole evidence is a news article from an online source that contains purported screenshots from the website at the time," the review wrote. "I have checked the website at issue, and the articles referenced in the screenshots do not appear to be on the site. Complainant has presented no personal information or information other than hearsay to support her complaint."
Dayton disagreed with FEC's decision in a follow-up letter, questioning its classification of the content as "simple free speech."
"It seemed apparent that false and malicious statements were made with the purposeful intent to influence the citizens of Marco Island to vote for the candidate endorsed by this website," Dayton wrote.