St. Augustine Beach Mayor Rich O’Brien recently paid $200 to clear up a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission over campaign literature used in the 2016 election.
The issue stemmed from his use of the phrase “Republican’s Choice” on campaign fliers circulated before the November elections.
Republican Party of St. Johns County Chairman Bill Korach wrote a letter to O’Brien in October on party letterhead and asked called on him to stop using the phrase.
Korach’s letter called O’Brien’s use of the phrase “Republican’s Choice” misleading because the Republican Party had endorsed O’Brien’s opponent, Rose Bailey. He also noted that the St. Johns Democratic Party had endorsed O’Brien.
Michel Pawlowski, father of St. Augustine Beach Vice Mayor Undine George, filed a complaint with the Florida Elections Commission in November. Pawlowski handles field activities for the Republican Party of St. Johns County, but the complaint wasn’t an action by the party, according to Korach.
Pawlowski’s complaint said O’Brien’s campaign literature was “deceiving the public in terms of election literature.”
The consent order focuses only on one “legally sufficient” allegation of a Florida Election Code violation, that O’Brien campaigned based on his party affiliation in a nonpartisan race, according to the Florida Elections Commission consent order. The commission approved the order 5-0 this week. The commission considers the allegation a minor violation.
Signing the the consent order does not mean O’Brien admitted or denied violating a section of the code, according to the order. O’Brien signed the order in March, which required him to pay a civil penalty of $200 to the Florida Elections Commission by close of business on March 27 in order to avoid an investigation into the allegation — which could lead to a civil penalty of up to $1,000, depending on the results, according to the order.
“There’s a lot of fanfare going on about nothing,” O’Brien said.
Records in the case were confidential until after the hearing.
In response to the complaint, O’Brien’s said he is a Republican and was a choice of two opponents.
“I feel like it was a very appropriate mailer because there was a choice of two Republicans running for the same seat,” O’Brien said.
He also said he didn’t understand why the Republican Party endorsed Bailey, since party officials never asked him any questions about his positions on issues, he said.
As for any future campaigns, O’Brien said he’s been a beach commissioner since 2006 and it’s time to give someone else a chance to serve on the commission.
“I’m done,” he said. “This is my last term.”