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"Illegal" blogger still at large


Editor Peter Ellis of the St. Augustine Record—with whom I corresponded last week—now claims to have learned the identity of the anonymous person or persons "connected to a politically charged but anonymously-run Web site targeting the character of members of the St. Johns County Commission."

In an email exchange with blogger Paul McNamara (who actually endorses the journalistic jihad to intimidate the owner(s) of Localsafety.org) Ellis writes: "We wanted to find out what the group is (we now know)."

He seems to regret, however, posting surveillance camera video of the blogger, caught red-handed in the act of purchasing an ad from the newspsper:

Would I do [the video posting] again? No. First, it raises questions about lines we draw, and, in hindsight, I shouldn't have done it. And second, we got the information by using more standard reporting techniques.

But while Ellis contends he "got the information," he doesn't see fit to share it with the Record's readers. As of this writing, the paper has yet to publish a story exposing the true identity of "Lee Padgett"—who, Ellis and St. Johns County commissioner Ben Rich claim (in the absence of any supporting evidence), is actually a "political committee."

Yet even though the Record has gone to extraordinary lengths to unmask his critics at Localsafety.org, Commissioner Rich has cancelled his subscription to the paper and fired off this letter to the Jacksonville Times-Union:

Well, I see that an apology is not good enough for the Times Union, the St. Augustine Record or you. Now you want my blood (That is also figurative speech. I am trying to teach all of you in the press not the difference between it and literal speech).You and your employer are not interested in unbiased press, are paid heavily in advertising revenue by my political enemies in the mega-development community and have acted totally irresponsibly regarding this entire non-issue. Shame on you and everyone at your rag connected with the deliberate political assassination of my character. What you are doing is totally out of context with my remarks which, when heard in context, are not even newsworthy. I hope that my supporters cancel their subscriptions in protest to your actions. I canceled mine at the Record! Print this piece if you have the guts along with the names and addresses of those that set up and fund the Web site. You do know who they are don't you? You must because Margo Pope, Jim Ellis and Derek May are recommending it to everyone. Like your editorials, those Web site creators have no names or faces. In dealing with you and those you protect, once more cowardice comes to mind. Endless paper and barrels of ink are dangerous weapons in the hands of irresponsible people. You and your colleagues tread on thin ice when you temper the responsibilities granted you by our constitution with large doses of arrogance and obvious malice. I have asked to be forgiven for my choice of words and you have proven yourself unworthy of that gesture.

Well, at least Ben Rich has dispelled any notion he's a hothead.


According to the Florida Department of State website:

Both candidates and committees must file campaign finance reports.

A "candidate" is any person who seeks to be elected to or retained in public office.

A "committee" is generally a combination of two or more individuals or an organization who:

  • Contributes more than $500 in the aggregate in a calendar year to any candidate or political party, or which accepts contributions during a calendar year in an aggregate amount in excess of $500; or
  • Expressly advocates the election or defeat of a candidate or issue and makes expenditures of more than $500 in the aggregate during a calendar year; or
  • The sponsor of a proposed constitutional amendment by initiative who intends to seek the signatures of registered electors.

On his website, "Lee Padgett"—be he/she an individual or a "combination of two or more individuals"—claims to have "spent less than $100 to be able to present my ideas on the performance of my elected public officials through this blog." It's not clear what Padgett may have spent additionally on the purchase of his ad in the Record, though, based on the paper's rate card, I can't imagine that he spent more than a couple of hundred dollars for a one-time ad.

It's also unclear whether Florida election laws are applicable to the expenditures, since Ben Rich didn't file for re-election until March 5. According to the WHOIS record, the blog was set up on February 25; the ad (according to the Record) was taken out March 1. Thus the campaign hadn't officially begun at the time of those expenditures, since no commissioner candidate had yet announced. In any event, local election supervisor Penny Halyburton is no doublt working diligently to make sure no lines have been crossed.

I'm also wondering whether Commissioner Rich believes that Florida election laws apply to This Isn't Writing, It's Typing—which has called attention to his unhinged behavior—even though I'm based in Western Pennsylvania. If so, he's welcome to contact me.

But please, Ben, don't shoot. I'm unarmed.

Posted by Rodger on March 16, 2007 at 11:43 AM | Permalink


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