KEY WEST -- Rick Ramsay, whom many consider the favorite to win the Republican primary for sheriff next Tuesday, said last week that he has returned a $500 campaign donation from Monroe County Sheriff's Office contractor Communications International.
But Ramsay, an MCSO colonel and undersheriff, also accused Republican opponent Bill Grove of sour grapes for casting aspersions about some of donations he has received.
"I am the only person who is taking the high road," said.
In addition to Grove, an investigator for the state attorney's office, Ramsay faces Sheriff's Office veteran Sgt. Jake Brady in next week's primary.
As of the July 20 reporting date, Ramsay had raised $140,000, vastly more than the $7,000 Brady had raised and the $4,000 brought in by Grove.
In a late July press release, Grove took aim at some of those contributions to Ramsay, especially the one from Vero Beach-based Communications International, which currently contracts with the Sheriff's Office for radio system repairs, and which he says is bidding on a multimillion-dollar contract for a new radio system. The Sheriff's Office did not respond to a record request for those bidding documents prior to press time.
In addition, Ramsay has received $500 donations from four Communications International executives, including CEO Robert Stork.
Grove also criticized Ramsay for $500 donations he has accepted from executives of Armor Correctional, which has a $2 million annual contract to run the infirmaries in the three county jailhouses, as well as the two $500 donations he has received from sister companies of Armor.
The Sheriff's Office's previous infirmaries contract, the former Prison Health Services, now known as Corizon Health, has also contributed the maximum $500 to Ramsay.
"Interesting is the fact that the contract is up for bid in 2013," Grove wrote in the July 27 press release.
Asked to comment on Grove's criticism at a July 31 candidates' forum at Boondocks Grille and Drafthouse on Ramrod Key, Ramsay said he doesn't take donations from companies that are presently contract with the Sheriff's Office. But he went on to explain that over the course of his 25 years with the agency, he has made many friends who are in the law enforcement business.
"Any donations that came, came from persons as an individual, not from corporations or companies that are doing active business with the Sheriff's Office," he said.
In a follow-up interview with the Free Press, Ramsay said he has now returned the Communications International check, which he explained was cashed without his knowledge by his campaign staff upon receipt last December.
Ramsay also said he's only refusing contributions from active contractors, and not their executives, because going further would require determining the motive of every one of his donors -- a list that was 730 strong as of July 20.
"Individuals have a right to do what they want and donate where it is appropriate," Ramsay said. "Twenty-five years of my ethics have never been questioned."
Grove remains dubious of Ramsay's commitment to refusing donations from contractors. The undersheriff, he charged, only decided to return the Communications International check after it became a campaign issue.
"There has been four or five reporting periods since he got money from them on the same date he got checks from other executives from the same company," Grove wrote in an email.