Follow the money, and you just might figure out who paid for the campaign that last month helped defeat a proposed sales tax increase to pay for health care programs in Manatee County.
The answers don't come easily, and they are not all entirely clear.
Most of the anti-tax fliers and automatic telephone calls received by voters before the June 18 election were organized by two groups, Manatee Against Taxation and Common Cents for Manatee, both run by Eric Robinson of Venice.
Manatee Against Taxation
In finance reports filed recently with the Florida Division of Election, Manatee Against Taxation, reported no expenses but $115,000 in contributions -- $50,000 from Robinson's accounting firm and $65,000 from another political committee chaired by Robinson, Committee to Protect Florida's Seniors.
A separate filing by Committee to Protect Florida's Seniors shows that between April 1 and June 30, it received $66,000 in contributions from Veterans for Conservative Principles, a committee based in Tallahassee. The committee also paid Robinson's firm $250 for accounting services, according to records.
During the same period, Veterans for Conservative Principles received $66,000 in contributions from Greenpoint Investors LLC, with a mailing address in downtown Sarasota.
That's where the trail leading back to Manatee Against Taxation stops. Information about Greenpoint Investors LLC was not available on a Florida Department of State website.
Past contributors to Veterans for Conservative Principles include the Mosaic Co. and companies linked to Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff, but there is no indication that their contributions were spent on the anti-tax campaign.
Common Cents for Manatee
Common Cents for Manatee reported only a single $5,000 contribution from another committee, Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics, based in Tallahassee. That group has been active since at least 2010, but the donation to Common Cents was the only one it made from April 1 to June 30 of this year.
Past donors to Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics include another committee, Citizens for Florida Prosperity, whose treasurer is Robinson.
The campaign in favor of the health care surtax may have actually out-raised the opponents.
New filings with the Manatee elections office show that Healthy Manatee, the committee organized to support the sales tax proposal, spent $181,100 on its campaign, much of it on its own fliers and automated telephone calls.
As previously reported, the group's biggest donors included local hospitals and others in the health care industry. UHS of Delaware, which owns Manatee Memorial and Lakewood Ranch Medical Center, and HCA, which owns Blake Medical Center, donated $75,000 each, according to records.
Committee for Community Leadership
In the past, companies with ties to local hospitals have contributed to the Palmetto-based Committee for Community Leadership, whose name was mentioned on automatic telephone calls you might have received before the June 18 election.
In the first three months of the year, Blake Medical Center donated a total of $7,000. But during the next three months, contributions and spending by CCL were minimal, according to records filed with the state.
The only expense was $2,813 paid to a North Carolina telecommunications company.
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