Ethics complaint filed against Lee County elections official

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FORT MYERS, Fla. – An ethics complaint was filed Thursday against Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharon Harrington claiming she spent $201,923 in radio advertisements to promote her re-election.

Lee County State Committeeman Chris Crowley, who submitted the complaint to the Florida Commission on Ethics, points to the exponential spending since Harrington was re-elected.

Since her re-election in 2012, Harrington spent $67,028 in radio advertising in 2014, then scaled back to a budget of $33,179 in 2015. That means Harrington’s office had more than a 600 percent increase in yearly spending on radio advertisements for 2016.

Harrington defended the spending on Oct. 28, saying the radio spots were crucial to voter education.

“It’s called voter education and we used radio, television, print media, and social media to get the message out there,” she said in a written statement provided to WINK News.

But Crowley’s complaint claims that her office had no funds budgeted for radio advertising in 2012 when she was unopposed for re-election.

Some of of the radio spots begin with “Here’s a voting tip from the office of Sharon Harrington, Lee County Supervisor of Elections…”

Crowley contends the ads are a misuse of taxpayer money.

“Every time I turn on my radio, there is another taxpayer funded advertisement from the Lee County Supervisor of Elections’ office that specifically mentions Sharon Harrington’s name,” the complaint reads. “Have no problem with public service announcements that encourage citizens to register and vote, but I do have a problem with the Supervisor of Elections promoting her re-election via taxpayer funded announcements.”

Lee County voters noticed the large bill, which towers in comparison to spending in other counties. Collier County, for example, spent less than $8,000 on radio ads.

“Do we get to vote on that? Do we get to vote on how our money is spent for radio advertising?” Julia Kahn, who lives in Lee County, said on Oct. 28 when WINK News uncovered Harrington’s latest fiscal budget.

But few voters questioned the mention of Harrington’s name in the ads.

Harrington maintains that the use of her name as an elected official is not unordinary.

“Having an ad start by saying that it was a message from me is not unusual when we are talking about the Supervisor of Elections. It’s not any different than an ad with Sheriff Scott saying, ‘Hi, this is your Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott with a message about drinking and driving.’ she said. “I’m the office holder and the elected official.”

Crowley has requested an investigation into Harrington, who he says has violated state laws regarding the code of ethics for public officers.

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