Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Shady intimidation tactics by campaign manager for Jeff Ashton's State Attorney campaign

The race for the Ninth Circuit (Orange and Osceola County) State Attorney took an unfortunate turn this week, with the already heated political rhetoric boiling over into actual threats. 

Current State Attorney Lawson Lamar is facing a challenge from Jeff Ashton. Both candidates are registered Democrats, and no one else is on the ballot, so under Florida law, all Orange and Osceola County voters can participate in this election, no matter what their party registration is. 

The unusual open primary has introduced some interesting dynamics to the race. Because the Democrats have very few contested primaries on the ballot, Republican turnout is expected to be higher, and both Lamar and Ashton are seeking Republican votes. 

Lamar, as a military veteran, former Orange County Sheriff, and current State Attorney with a long history of involvement in the Central Florida community, has easily won Republican votes in past elections. 

Ashton seems to be finding trouble attracting similar support from Central Florida Republicans, and some of his campaign's allies are not helping matters. 

Ad for Clary's columns
Ashton's campaign manager, Susan Clary, has long been active in Democratic political circles, previously serving as communications director of Alan Grayson's campaign and then later working in his Congressional office. 

Clary's Facebook page says that her political views are "Democratic Party," and both her Facebook page and her LinkedIn profile list involvement in a number of campaigns for Democratic candidates (no Republicans) and groups such as the Sierra Club and the ACLU. She frequently posts articles and comments in support of Democratic candidates and elected officials.

I met Clary several years ago and have never known her to be anything other than a Democrat. Curiously, Clary seems to now be denying that she is a Democrat and attempting to promote Ashton in Facebook groups targeted to Republicans. 

Doug Guetzloe, another of Ashton's most vocal supporters, is Central Florida's own one-man Westboro Baptist Church: if he protests against you, you're probably doing something right.

I'm trying to keep this post from getting ridiculously long, so here are some links about Guetzloe's most famous infamous deeds: years of repeated accusations of collaboration with Alan Grayson (see here and here) including the creation of a third party political party using the name "Florida Tea Party" with the goal of splitting the conservative vote in Grayson's district and others around Florida (see posts here, here, here, and here), multiple findings by the Florida Elections Commission of election law violations and thousands of dollars in unpaid fines, allegations of political corruption and extortion$1.61 million defamation verdict against Guetzloe after he insinuated that the plaintiff was a pedophile on his radio show, and a 15 month federal prison sentence for failure to file tax returns (delayed during appeal).

Bottom line: neither Susan Clary nor Doug Guetzloe are considered to be influential in respectable Republican circles. Both have had their names closely tied to Grayson's for years, in addition to Guetzloe's activities in the 2010 elections attempting to defeat good Republican candidates with his third party effort.

This now brings us to Jeff Tepper, a retired accountant from Long Island who moved to Central Florida a few years ago. Tepper became active in the Orange County Republican Executive Committee ("OCREC") and befriended many local Republicans. Tepper noticed that the Orange County Political Voice ("OCPV") Facebook group had many posts about local races, and that the discussions seemed dominated by Democrats, as well as Guetzloe.

Tepper had learned about Guetzloe from OCREC members and was skeptical about Guetzloe's intentions. He posted a Channel 13 news article about Guetzloe's most recent sentence for failure to pay tax returns in the OCPV Facebook group. 

You can view Tepper's OCPV post yourself here. I don't know how long they will leave it up (especially after my post), but I have screenshots saved. Here is the post and the first few comments:

The next set of comments (Clary's last comment is repeated at the top of this screenshot):

Note that all Tepper did was post a news article. He makes no comments about Guetzloe, critical or otherwise. The response from OCPV group members is chilling: they say they are hiring a private investigator to "check out" Tepper, and then Susan Clary responds that she has an investigator's license and that she'll check him out herself. 

Besides her strange objection to being called a Democrat (she is a Democrat), it's Clary's public statement that she is going to investigate Tepper that raises a lot of questions. Even more alarming is Clary's statement that she "may work for the SA [presumably, State Attorney's Office] someday soon."

Unfortunately for Tepper, it appears that this group might have made good on their threats. A comment was posted later that the "surveillance" was "on-track:"

Is Clary actually publicly declaring her intention to investigate Tepper for merely posting a news article in a public Facebook group and telling the truth about her political affiliation? What should we make of her reference to working for the State Attorney's Office "someday soon?" If Ashton gets elected, and Clary is hired by his office, what does she intend to do with her powers? Is Tepper the only citizen she intends to investigate? What of all the other opponents of her past political clients? Is someone actually conducting surveillance on Tepper? Who is paying for that? Or is this just an effort to intimidate a critic into silence?

I spoke with Tepper on the phone last night, and he told me he was in shock and disbelief when he read Clary's comments about investigating him, asking himself what Clary could possibly be thinking: "Does Ashton know that this is the caliber of people he is hiring? This is crazy." Tepper was curious about the legal implications of Clary's comments, and I did some quick research:
  • Chapter 493 of the Florida Statutes governs private investigators, and several sections specifically address misconduct, deceit, fraud, acting in a way "that would cause a reasonable person to believe" that the investigator "has official authority" or "committing any act that is intended to falsely convey official status," and designate certain offenses as crimes (see, e.g., sections 493.6118, 493.6119, 493.6120, et al.). 
  • More to the point, Section 760.51, Fla. Stat., allows for civil penalties of up to $10,000 per violation against anyone who "interferes by threats, intimidation, or coercion, or attempts to interfere by threats, intimidation, or coercion, with the exercise or enjoyment by any other person of rights secured by the State Constitution or laws of this state." Clary's comments on the the OCPV Facebook post could be interpreted as attempts to intimidate Tepper and interfere with his free speech rights.
  • In addition, several of the Florida Bar Rules of Ethics, the ethical and professional responsibility rules that govern attorneys, could come into play if Ashton did in fact know what Clary, his campaign manager, was doing.
The main point is that threats to "investigate" Tepper are creepy as all heck, and in my opinion, extremely unethical, if not possibly illegal. Now, I'm not a police officer, a prosecutor, or a judge. I have no control over whether any of this conduct is actually illegal and not a darn word of this post should be construed as legal advice. But I don't think it's too far of a stretch to say that it's a terrifying idea that the power of the State Attorney's Office could be directed at someone for sharing a news article or discussing politics on Facebook.

That's how it's supposed to be, anyway.
Considering what I've written about Guetzloe, Ashton, and Grayson previously, and now in this post, what is going to happen to me? Should I expect to find someone tailing me? Will I find a private investigator digging through my trash? Worse, if Ashton wins the election, am I safe in my hometown? 

Are you safe? What have you posted on Facebook about political candidates? Are we really going to tolerate these thuggish tactics from the campaign of someone who seeks to be our community's top law enforcement officer?

Central Florida, we can do better. We don't have to accept bullying tactics and unethical behavior from would-be elected officials.

I call on Jeff Ashton to honor the oath he took as an attorney, and to honor the Office of the State Attorney, by publicly denouncing the threats against a private citizen by his campaign manager, Susan Clary. Frankly, I don't know how anything less than immediately terminating her employment and relationship with the campaign could be sufficient. 

If Ashton fails to distance himself from Clary and her reprehensible intimidation tactics, then we can only assume that he condones this activity, and Orange and Osceola County voters should consider themselves warned about what we should expect from Ashton if he is elected State Attorney.

[Full disclosure: Lawson Lamar is a friend, and I have worked for him before. I have endorsed him in this primary against Ashton. My opposition to Ashton is even more pronounced after learning of the information described above in this post.]


  1. this is INSANE. Who is this Susan Clary woman and why does she think this is ok? Jeff Ashton should drop out of the race if this is who he is hiring

    1. hmmm she may be the creame of their crop !!!!

  2. THIS IS SCARY... I actually fear for families of the current state attorneys office if he gets elected and he condones her actions. Wow... thank you for bringing this to light Sarah!

  3. I think that Lawson Lamar is the best man for the job. Ashton made a fool out of himself at the Casey Athony trial and has to blame someone else for his mistakes. He loses control too easy.

  4. Surprise, surprise. A spiteful article from the Lawson Lamar's former campaign manager....

    People, consider all the facts. Sarah Rumpf was Lawson Lamar's campaign manager in 2008 who clearly wrote this article to trash Susan Clary.

    1. I stated very clearly in the post that I worked on the campaign before. Nothing to hide.

      Regardless of whether I was the campaign manager or the Queen of England, I didn't force Susan Clary to post on public Facebook forums that she was going to investigate anyone.

      I didn't force the Jeff Ashton campaign to associate with Doug Guetzloe.

      I didn't prevent Jeff Ashton from denouncing such ugly tactics from his campaign manager.

      Nope. You can attack me all you want. Call me "spiteful," that's fine, I've been called worse. But it doesn't change any of the facts. Ashton is running to be the chief law enforcement officer of our community but is willingly accepting help from convicted criminals and condoning intimidation tactics by his campaign operatives.

  5. Give me a break! A couple of silly nonsensical comments on a Facebook page is all takes to get you this riled up? Who is this Jeff Tepper guy anyway?

    I'm supporting Jeff Ashton. It is clear that you are biased against him. Disclosing that you were Lamar's campaign manager doesn't make the bias go away.

  6. Hmmm, comments visable after approval? Filtering out all the people who don't agree with you?

    1. It's the only way I can filter out spam and obscene content. Otherwise the comments sections will have a bunch of junk posts about prescription medicines and investment opportunities.

      If I was worried about people saying mean things about me on the internet, I wouldn't blog under my real name.

  7. Sarah - I appreciate you taking the time to do all this research and post all the links to the documentation. You provided a good service. Whether you support one candidate or the other in a race - the TRUTH is what is most important so voters can make an informed decision. I respect you blogging under your own name and I also understand why you must approve posts - the advertisement blog comments would overrun your pages. Keep up the great work. Agree or disagree, I like your blog & the info you provide.

  8. Since when did supporting one candidate or another start getting called bias? Sunshine Sarah isn't a like some TV news anchor who is supposted to report the news objectively. Isn't everyone posting on their facebook pages and all that about what candidates they like?
    Looks to me like someone doesn't like the criticism so they call Sarah bias but they didn't answer the accusations.

  9. If someone who is working on Jeff Ashton's campaign ever even volunteered for the disgraceful King of Sleaze, much less actually worked for him, that would be reason enough to support whoever was running against him. Even if it's a volunteer who only came in once a week and was barely known to the Campaign Manager. This race is the easiest big race to decide of them all (I'm not in the 7th District) and I'm sure the results will reflect that.


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