Florida Green Party Candidates Were GOP Moles, Suit Claims

There’s something fishy about Sarah Roman, a Green Party candidate for state representative. Accusations of voter fraud began shortly after Roman filed on June 19 as a Green Party candidate in the State House District 44, which represents Brooksville and other small towns north of Tampa. Things looked suspicious when Green Party officials and reporters went looking for Roman. She didn’t return emails or phone calls — not exactly common for a candidate.

It also looked bad when Roman reported in papers she filed with the state having a net worth of just $5,200. That’s not much higher than the $1,915 filing fee she paid to run for office. She indicated only that she had loaned herself the money.

Roman is one of five Green Party candidates who ran similarly mysterious campaigns this year in hotly contested races around Florida. All five indicated on financial disclosure forms that they loaned themselves money, even though most of them were broke. Few of them were willing to speak to the press or to representatives of their own party.

Democrats accused the now-dubbed “Florida Five” of being paid GOP moles, inserted into tight races in order to attract left-leaning voters. The theory is that Republicans figured the five could siphon off voters the same way Ralph Nader did in the 2000 presidential election, costing Al Gore the victory.

Now, we just might find out if that’s true. The Green Party has filed this lawsuit against Roman that will force her to testify whether someone paid her to help throw an election. The suit was filed on behalf of Jayne King, the chairwoman of the Green Party in Florida. King is a retired teacher who lives in Delray Beach. She says she filed the lawsuit to solve the mystery of the Florida Five.

King says she targeted Roman because she had no money in the bank and didn’t explain how she came up with the filing fee. “Sarah Roman’s [candidacy] was the most clear-cut suspicious,” King says. “Certainly, we want to prevent this from happening again.” The lawsuit employs a rarely used Florida law that allows someone to seek a “bill of discovery” to get information on someone who may have committed a crime. That means King’s attorney, Tallahassee lawyer Ron Meyer, can subpoena Roman’s financial records to find out where she got the filing fee. Roman will also have to testify under oath whether someone gave her money and put her up to running.

Meyer says Roman’s failure to report where she got the money for her filing fee is a clear violation of Florida elections law. “This goes right to the sanctity of the election process,” Meyer said. “We don’t believe people should be gaming the election process simply to direct votes for major contenders.”

Meyer wouldn’t say who’s paying his legal bills, but it isn’t a stretch to imagine Democrats want to figure out who put the Florida Five up to running.

A new Florida law is blamed for allowing the phantom Green Party candidates to run. The law allows anyone to file as a third-party candidate without approval of the party itself. Previously, candidates representing small political parties needed to be nominated. But the state’s GOP pushed the change through last year.

Under the law, it is legal for the Florida Five to switch parties and insert themselves in a race simply to help the GOP. But it would be in violation of elections law for the candidates to accept money in order to run. And the lawsuit against Roman just might prove if that happened.

Two high-level Democratic Party sources tell New Times that they suspect the five candidates were given cash to run by Public Concepts, a West Palm Beach political consulting firm headed by Randy Nielsen. The sources say the firm has represented Republican candidates in all five of the races and is known for its hard-hitting campaign consulting. Nielsen didn’t return phone calls from New Times.

The sources say that Nielsen’s firm found the candidates using Craigslist.com ads that promised cash for working at home. The arrangement, the sources claim, required the candidates to file and then all but disappear. Included in those who face Green Party candidates this year is popular state Sen. Dave Aronberg of Green Acres. The Senate’s minority whip, Aronberg is facing a tight reelection bid on Nov. 4 from Republican challenger Matt Caldwell of Lee County.

“These Green Party candidates are not legitimate candidates,” Aronberg said. “They don’t exist to win the election. They were put up by unnamed people in order to siphon off votes.”

The Green Party candidate in Aronberg’s race is 28-year-old Aniana Robas, who listed on her filing papers an address in the city of Riverview, outside of Aronberg’s district. Robas hasn’t done any campaigning and hasn’t responded to requests from the Green Party to explain why she ran. “This looks like a dirty trick to exploit the Nader effect,” Aronberg said.

Out of the Florida Five, Robas is the most financially secure, listing her net worth at $11,000 in papers she filed with the state. She also lists a salary of $51,000 — about twice the highest salary of the other five candidates. Kristina Wright of Port St. Lucie was the only candidate to respond to Green Party officials.

The 20-year-old has a negative net worth of $13,000, but she told party officials she used a rebate she received on a car she purchased to pay the filing fee.

All five of the candidates paid their filing fees by loaning money to their campaigns. All of them also used checks with personal information written in by hand — the kind of checks given out when someone opens a new account. Roman indicated her net worth as $5,219, mostly from a $1,200 car and $1,300 in furniture. For income, she claimed that she makes $15,000 from an undisclosed “Community Center” and $12,000 as a waitress at TGI Fridays in Clearwater.

Shortly after Roman and the other four phantom candidates filed, the Green Party sent officials out to find them. Jennifer Sullivan, a mail carrier in Spring Hill, went to the address Roman used to file for office. She also went to the Salvation Army where Roman claimed to have coached a basketball team. Roman didn’t return Sullivan’s messages. “It’s pretty bizarre that a candidate wouldn’t want to talk to someone from the party she’s supposedly representing,” Sullivan said. Roman didn’t return messages New Times left for her at work and at a friend’s home in New Port Richey — the address she used to file as a candidate.

On Oct. 24, Roman responded to the Green Party’s lawsuit. Her two-page response denied the charge that she violated campaign finance law; the document doesn’t explain her denials.

The St. Petersburg Times claims to have received an email from Roman, who denied being a Trojan horse planted by the GOP. "I have educated myself about what the Green Party represents and feel it is closely aligned with my beliefs," the paper quoted her as writing.

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Eric Barton
Contact: Eric Barton