The Phoenix Flyer

Lawyers v. lawyers: Florida attorney general races are getting nasty

By: - July 30, 2018 3:00 pm
Florida Phoenix

Ryan Torrens

The race for Florida’s top legal job – attorney general – in both political parties is growing more vitriolic in the days leading up to the August 28 vote.

On the Democratic side, candidate Sean Shaw filed a lawsuit last week to throw his opponent Ryan Torrens off the ballot, saying Torrens violated campaign finance laws. Shaw called for Torrens to be decertified because he accepted a $4,000 contribution – $1,000 more than the legal contribution from an individual – to pay for his qualifying fee.

Torrens is responding by citing Shaw’s own problems with the Florida Election Commission when he ran for a Tampa House seat in 2014.

Torrens says that the disputed contribution check involved actually came from his wife, Francesca  Yabraian, and it was from their joint credit union checking account. He says their initial idea was to transfer their own personal money to the campaign and call it a loan to help pay the qualifying fee, citing the fact that candidates are permitted to provide their own campaigns with contributions and loans in excess of $3,000.

He now says once he realized that the check from his wife bearing his wife’s signature pushed her over the individual contribution limits (since it was not signed by both of them), they reported the error themselves to the Division of Elections, before an ethics complaint was filed against him for the contribution, and before Shaw tried to throw him off the ballot.

Torrens doesn’t stop there, however, enclosing paperwork showing the Florida Elections Commission ruled in late 2015 that Shaw had violated Florida election law by failing to “timely make necessary amendments” to his campaign finance report back in August of 2014, when Shaw first ran for the Tampa House seat. He ultimately lost that year to Ed Narain, but won it in 2016.

Correspondence shows that Shaw failed to respond to three separate letters from the Florida Division of Elections in January and February of 2015. Shaw ultimately was fined $75 each for two counts of failing to timely make necessary amendments to his reports.

“None of Sean’s past campaign finance errors would have had an effect on him qualifying for the ballot. The same isn’t true for Torrens,” said Michael Hopkins, Shaw’s campaign spokesman.

“I never intended to make my opponent’s past FEC record a part of our 2018 campaign, because I hoped to focus solely on the problems and solutions Floridians care about most,” Torrens said. “But now that my primary opponent chose to try to file a lawsuit using false allegations as a weapon to challenge my integrity, and even the integrity of my wife – all as a weapon to try to force me out of the race– I have no choice but to aggressively stay the course and respond not with allegations, but just by making his record available.”

Torrens also is calling on Shaw to engage in two political debates with him before Election Day. Shaw, who has a large lead in fundraising and endorsements, has chosen not to respond to such requests.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, the rhetoric between former Hillsborough Circuit Court Judge Ashley Moody and Pensacola Florida House Republican Frank White in the GOP race for attorney general has also escalated in the past few weeks.

A political committee backing White accused Moody of being & “soft on child predators” in her previous role as a judge and federal prosecutor.

The Moody camp fired back with signed statements from nine of Florida’s 20 state attorneys last week charging that saying White lacks experience and that he was “unfit to serve” as attorney general.

“Frank White has never prosecuted a case in a courtroom, never tried any case to verdict, and has absolutely no understanding of what it means to lead a successful investigation or prosecution,” said a portion of the letter.

A political committee backing White, United Conservatives, ran an ad charging Moody with the L-word -“liberal” – because she initially registered as a Democrat at 18 before switching to become a Republican at 23. She also contributed to Democrat Bill McBride’s campaign for governor in 2002. As the Tampa Bay Times reports, Moody had recently been hired at the Tampa law firm of Holland and Knight, which was then headed by McBride.

White’s political action committee PAC then went after Moody again last week for fearmongering” in an ad.  Moody’s ad features a narrator sayings that Florida’s streets “aren’t safe, our borders aren’t secure and politicians can’t fix the system.”

In his political committee ad, White’s campaign sites Rick Scott’s proclamations that Florida’s crime rate is at a 47-year-low.

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Mitch Perry
Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has covered politics and government in Florida for more than two decades. Most recently he is the former politics reporter for Bay News 9. He has also worked at Florida Politics, Creative Loafing and WMNF Radio in Tampa. He was also part of the original staff when the Florida Phoenix was created in 2018.