Voter files ethics complaint against Sen. Gary Siplin over newsletter

There is a complaint with the Commission on Ethics against state Sen. Gary Siplin over a newsletter he sent in July. The newsletter was created and sent using taxpayer money.

The interesting aspect of the issue, according to UCF Political Science Professor Aubrey Jewett, is that the newsletter mentions Siplin’s wife Victoria, who is running for Florida Senate in a primary set for Aug. 14. She is referenced six times and her photograph appears twice.

Siplin was elected to State Senate District 19, but the newsletter was sent to people outside his district. Some people residing in the district Victoria Siplin is runing for received Sen. Siplin’s newsletter.

Senate rules allow him to send the newsletter paid with tax dollars to people outside his district, however Jewett said the move was unethical.

Amy Ritter, an Orlando resident and director of research for the group Florida Watch Action, filed the ethics complaint Thursday because she doesn’t live in Siplin’s district and received the newsletter.

“I thought it was a little suspicious and this is an official Senate newsletter,” Ritter said. “It’s mulitple pages and glossy, sent from his official Senate office.  I have never been represented by Gary Siplin.”

In her complaint, she said  Siplin broke state law and cited Florida statute, which prevents public officers and employees from using public resources to benefit himself or others.

Siplin released the following statement:

“I pray in JESUS’ NAME, for Amy Ritter’s protection, her happiness, and her welfare; and, I truly pity her, and may God bless her.  (1 Peter 3:9 Amplified Bible).”

Siplin also said the complaint was politically motivated.

“I think it was designed to arrive shortly before the primary and to highlight Victoria who is the Senatorial candidate in this race….to use taxpayer money in this way is a violation and an abuse of your public position,” said Florida Senate candidate Geraldine Thompson.

“It seems pretty clear that it’s designed to help [Siplin’s] wife win the Democratic primary,” Jewett said.

Page five of the newsletter informs people about a free school supply giveaway, along with a free laptop raffle that Victoria Siplin sponsors.

Siplin strongly denies the item was put in the newsletter to help his wife’s campaign.

However, Jewett said sending the newsletter outside Siplin’s district is unethical, even if it is legal.

“There’s one part of me that says elections are a game of rules and as long as you don’t actually violate the rules that letter of the law that rule, then all is fair,” Jewett said. “And there is a part of me that admires him and her for doing this. But there is another part of me that says this is really not right. It is not what these mailers were intended for and it’s a waste of taxpayer money.”

Siplin said his wife is part of the community and that’s the reason the newsletter includes her.

A representative from the Clerk of Senate’s office said the senators operate on a self-policing system when it comes to newsletters. They said senators are not required to provide a mailing list to the Clerk of Senate’s office.

Siplin is not running for re-election because of term limits. But if he were, Senate rules prevent him from sending newsletters from June until November as to avoid using the newsletters for campaigning.

“It is using taxpayer money for a campaign piece when I am having to raise campaign funds to send out literature,” Thompson said.

Victoria Siplin and Thompson are running in the Democratic primary Tuesday for State Senate District 12. The winner will face Fritz Seide in November.


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