Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Tuesday, October 16, 2012
School race divided over party donations

School Board District 3 candidate John Welsh, the former Key West High School principal, happily accepted $3,315 in campaign donations from four Republican Party clubs as he heads into the Nov. 6 runoff against Ed Davidson.

Welsh is a registered Republican, but his campaign signs and other get-out-the-vote swag don't carry that bit of information.

That's because the School Board races in Monroe County are nonpartisan.

In 2010, candidate Barbara Bowers accepted money from the Republicans in the Keys as she tried to beat Robin-Smith Martin, who won that School Board contest.

It is legal to accept partisan party donations in the School Board race.

"They just offered it," he said. "Had the Democratic Party offered me money, I'd have taken it also."

Welsh has trailed Ed Davidson, a boat captain who owns a dive shop, in the campaign finance department.

Davidson as of Friday had raised $29,315 and spent $23,315. Welsh has raised $12,625 and spent $10,000.

Davidson, a self-styled financial watchdog to the school district, called Welsh's acceptance of the $3,315 unethical.

"It's legal but I think it's highly questionable," said . "Because this is designated as a nonpartisan race. That has to be for a reason. This society doesn't want partisan politics on the School Board. I spend my own money instead of taking partisan political donations."

Florida voters in 1998 approved a constitutional change to make school board elections non-partisan. Welsh received $500 from the teachers' union, while Davidson has sunk $20,000 of his own money into his campaign and accepted individual contributions.

Welsh said he checked with the Supervisor of Elections to make sure the clubs donations were permissible.

"It annoys me to have to ask friends and family for money; as a result, I really haven't raised that much," Welsh said. "Accepting contributions from political parties is common practice in the United States, from dog catcher to president."

The Republican Party of Monroe County gave Welsh $2,000, the Greater Keys Republican Party kicked in $100 and the Middle Keys Republican Club handed over $215.

Two weeks earlier, the Southernmost Republican Club of Key West contributed $500 to Welsh's bid, while the Republican Party of Monroe County chipped in $500. The Key West club, which has about 130 dues-paying members, had its executive board discuss it first and then took it back to the entire membership for a vote, despite the fact that the School Board race is nonpartisan.

"What we do is promote Republicans for these offices," said Tommy Mack, president of the Southernmost Republican Club. "We support Republicans and he happens to be a member of our club."

gfilosa@keysnews.com

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