TAMPA, Fla. - A competitive primary for a State Senate seat got nastier Friday when an ethics complaint was filed against one of the candidates.
State Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, was hit with a complaint alleging she failed to disclose a relationship with a political committee that sent negative mail targeting her opponent, former Senate President Tom Lee.
The two Republicans are fighting to represent a district that encompasses the eastern half of Hillsborough County, plus parts of Pasco and Polk counties.
One of the postcards in question, mailed in early July, compared Lee's personal life to that of embattled Hillsborough Co. Property Appraiser Rob Turner. Lee is divorced; Turner recently admitted to sending porn to a former co-worker whom he later fired.
The man who filed the complaint against Burgin was Paul Phillips, the former treasurer of the Hillsborough Republican Party, who also filed the initial complaint against outgoing State Senator Jim Norman.
Phillips' newest complaint also included the chairwoman and treasurer of the American People Committee, the political committee that sent the negative postcards and letters. Kenya Cory, the wife of a lobbyist, allegedly sent the mailers illegally, and her lawyer acknowledged Friday to the News Service of Florida that the couple had "made mistakes."
Burgin says she did nothing illegal and never steered money to a political committee; she simply knew there were lobbyists working to defeat Tom Lee's bid for another term in Tallahassee.
She also said Phillips was a long-time adversary who once gunned for her seat in the State House. She added "he is a moderate - at best - Republican" who disagreed with her pro-life beliefs and efforts to combat human trafficking.
Phillips replied that he was, indeed, pro-life and sour grapes had nothing to do with his complaint.
Lee chimed in Friday too, saying Burgin "breached the public trust" with her relationship to the political committee.
"I've been around politics a long time and I've never seen such gross personal attacks and distortions," the former Senate President said.
The winner of the Aug. 14 Republican primary will face Democrat Elizabeth Belcher in November's general election.
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