Former Polk School Board member Billy Townsend, who writes a newsletter about education and local politics, has filed a campaign finance complaint against Rick Nolte, who last week defeated incumbent Sarah Fortney for a School Board seat.
Townsend wrote Tuesday that he filed a formal complaint with the Florida Elections Commission about potential misdemeanor and felony violations revealed in Nolte’s campaign finance reports. Townsend is a friend and supporter of Fortney’s.
“Right now, sitting in plain view, his campaign contributions show at least $6,200 in illegal cash donations,” Townsend wrote last week and cited state law.
Nolte’s campaign finance form shows he loaned his campaign $5,200 in cash on March 10, Townsend wrote. He also noted there are 10 cash contributions of $100 from 10 people in the last reporting period.
Florida Statute 106.09 says it’s a misdemeanor for a person to make cash or cashier’s check donations of larger than $50 to a candidate or for a person to accept cash donations larger than $50. In addition, “Any person who knowingly makes or accepts a (cash) contribution in excess of $5,000 in violation of subsection 1 commits a felony of the third degree.”
“This … appears to be the self-declaration of a felony,” Townsend wrote about Nolte’s $5,200 cash loan.
Noting the $100 cash contributions, Townsend said, “Look, most likely someone just entered ‘cash’ wrong,” saying he was trying to give Nolte the benefit of the doubt. “I cannot imagine that anyone would be so stupid as to openly declare his crimes like this. But I am going to file a state elections complaint to find out.”
Townsend said Tuesday that he had mailed the complaint to the Florida Elections Commission on Monday.
“As of this writing, on Aug. 29, 2022, Nolte’s campaign has not amended any of its reports claiming these illegal contributions,” Towsned wrote, calling the potentially illegal contributions “clear evidence of incompetence, neglect of duty, misfeasance or malfeasance.”
Nolte did not respond to a Facebook private message, a post on his Facebook page or a text message seeking his comment. A phone call yielded a message saying voicemail is full so a message could not be left.
It was Townsend who first wrote about campaign consultant James Dunn’s conviction of felony fraud for taking $300,000 in U.S. Department of Education money, but not providing training to disabled persons or veterans. That earned Dunn a stint in federal prison.
Townsend also uncovered that two companies Dunn owns or runs has also not complied with a 2021 Texas court order to repay $21,293 to Community Temple Church of God In Christ Houston. The church sued the companies in civil court and won.
A call between Dunn and LkldNow promptly ended when LkldNow asked why he had not paid back the church. Dunn would also not answer texted questions.
According to campaign finance documents, Dunn was hired by Terry Clark and Jill Sessions, who both paid him $7,500 apiece. Clark said in an email that Nolte had also used Dunn. County Citizens Defending Freedom administrators said they introduced Dunn to the three candidates after hearing about his successes in getting far-right candidates elected to school boards in Texas.
Kimberly C. Moore is an award-winning reporter and a Lakeland native. She can be reached at [email protected] or 863-272-9250.