Deegan appointee made improper election donations, but he says he’s fixing it

Published on July 6, 2023 at 4:30 pm

State elections officials have raised questions about a pair of election donations made by the man now named as the city’s director of boards and commissions.

But former City Councilman Garrett Dennis said the issue raised in three Florida Division of Elections letters is being solved.

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The letters, the first dated March 27, say Dennis made two campaign contributions last year from the campaign account he used during his failed run for state representatives. According to state records, those donations — $1,000 to Joyce Morgan’s property appraiser race and $657 to City Councilman Jimmy Peluso’s campaign — are prohibited under state law.

Dennis said he and his campaign manager were unaware that state law prohibited him from using his leftover campaign funds to help others in their races. After contacting state elections officials on Thursday, he said the issue is being settled.

“It’s an easy remedy,” Dennis said. “I asked both campaigns to refund those contributions, which was right around $1,600. Once they return the money, I just have to donate that money to a charitable organization and amend my report.”

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Mayor Donna Deegan’s chief communications officer, Phil Perry, said the situation is not an issue with her administration, since Dennis is rectifying the situation.

“Mayor Deegan continues to have full faith and confidence in him, and she looks forward to working together to reactivate and diversify our city boards,” Perry said in an email.

Dennis was the District 9 City Council member between 2015 and 2022, when he resigned to make his unsuccessful Democratic run for the state Legislature. Tyrona Clark-Murray was elected to Dennis’ City Council seat in May, after winning a special election to fill out his term. Deegan announced her new top executive team in late June, including Dennis as the mayor’s representative on city boards and commissions.

The campaign finance issue was uncovered during routine follow-up audits on all state campaign fundraising accounts for compliance with election law.

The Division of Elections, in the first letter to Dennis campaign treasurer Elaine Spencer, stated that “one or more campaign reports are incomplete,” specifying the use of his leftover campaign funds after he lost his race to Kim Daniels. State records show the Morgan campaign donation was made Aug. 31, followed by the Peluso donation on Sept. 15.

The state’s follow-up letters repeated the concern. And the final notice stated that non-compliance would result in the issue being moved on to the Florida Elections Commission “for further action,” which could include civil penalties of up to $1,000 per violation.

Dennis said he and Spencer were not aware of that elections donation rule but are “both fully aware of that now and we are complying with the law to correct it.”

The Division of Elections records also show the second and third letters could not be delivered, listed as “Returned Mail” on May 4 and June 29. Those letters went to an Atlantic Boulevard UPS store where Dennis said he had a P.O. box, now closed with the campaign over.

author image Reporter, WJCT News 89.9 email Dan Scanlan is a veteran journalist with almost 40 years of experience in radio, television, and print reporting. He has worked at various stations in the Northeast and Jacksonville. Prior to joining the WJCT News team, Dan spent 34 years at The Florida Times-Union as a police and current affairs reporter.

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