Bondi campaign had undisclosed links to "toxic" mailer

Oct 28, 2010

Paula McMahon

Sun-Sentinel


When a round of political mailers went out to South Florida homes labeling Democratic attorney general nominee Dan Gelber “toxic to Jewish education,” his opponent Pam Bondi’s campaign told the Sun Sentinel last week that she knew nothing about the fliers.

On Thursday, it emerged that the mailer was paid for with a donation from the American Federation for Children, a Washington, D.C.-based group that has a very close but previously undisclosed link to one of Bondi’s top campaign advisors.

Kim Kirtley, Bondi’s communications director, is married to John F. Kirtley, the vice chairman on the board of directors for the American Federation for Children.

The mailer was sent by an electioneering communications organization, or ECO, called the Committee for Florida's Education, which was set up earlier this month and funded solely by $255,000 from the federation. Both groups support and lobby for school vouchers.

In an email responding to questions about the link on Thursday, Kim Kirtley wrote, “I reiterate that neither the campaign, or me personally, had any knowledge of the flier. John and I are both professionals who work in the political process, but his work is his own, and mine is my own.”

The Gelber campaign deplored the mailers as insulting and “in-the-gutter political hate mail.” Gelber is Jewish, and his three children attend public school as well as private religious education programs. He has long opposed school vouchers, saying he believes they steal much-needed money from the public education system.

“For Pam Bondi to say she had nothing to do with these mailers, it’s a stretch, a big, big stretch,” said Christian Ulvert, a Gelber spokesman. “Kim is not some low-level staffer, she’s communications director and a senior adviser. It’s pretty disingenuous to claim no knowledge.”

The mailer was targeted to heavily Jewish neighborhoods in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties.

Kirtley, formerly Kim Stone, was communications director for former House Speaker Tom Feeney, director of House campaigns for the Republican Party and worked on Gov. Charlie Crist’s 1998 Senate campaign.

John F. Kirtley is a well-known supporter of school vouchers in the Tampa area.

Bondi’s spokeswoman, Sandi Copes, told the Sun Sentinel last week in response to questions about the mailer, “Pam made a promise to campaign positively, and had absolutely no knowledge of this flyer.” And Kim Kirtley told the Miami Herald’s political blog earlier on Thursday that “our campaign had nothing to do with this flier.”

The mailer accused Gelber of fighting “scholarships to help our needy children attend Jewish private schools.” Gelber said he has opposed vouchers and called for an investigation of how voucher money was spent by one school that was accused of helping to fund terrorist groups overseas.

Elnatan Rudolph, chairman of the committee, last week rejected Gelber’s charge that the committee was acting on behalf of Bondi's “special interest allies.” Rudolph said his group was not particularly pro Bondi but “more against people who do not support school choice.”

The mailer so outraged some recipients that more than 100 people, mostly prominent Jewish attorneys, wrote a letter criticizing the mailer and promoting Gelber’s reputation.




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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Dan Gelber.