Florida politicians battling over Internet sex ads

Miami HeraldMarch 27, 2009 

Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum upped the financial and political stakes of his campaign against Internet sex crime, urging Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Thursday to greenlight another $975,000 in television spots under a no-bid contract with his former campaign consultant.

McCollum has already dropped about $1.4 million in state funds on public service ads about on-line predators, and he asked for Sink's ''continued support.'' She said she backs the message, not the method.

''I was disappointed to learn that you intend to continue your no-bid contract to Chris Mottola Consulting, instead of going through a competitive bidding process,'' Sink wrote in response. "Also it is important to note that these funds are public funds -- they belong to Florida's taxpayers.''

Sink asked for more documentation on the contract but her office has said she can't stop payment if McCollum complies with state law. He called her actions ''hypocritical'' and accused her of standing in the way of public safety.

''This essential program's only purpose is to protect Florida's children,'' McCollum wrote back. "CyberSafety is not a political issue -- our children's safety hangs in the balance.''

The escalating dispute reflects the growing speculation that Gov. Charlie Crist will run for the Senate in 2010, leaving McCollum and Sink to wrestle for his job. The public spat also signals the issues that likely will define their next campaigns -- the Republican attorney general staking his reputation on fighting cybercrime and the Democratic CFO positioning herself as the state's fiscal watchdog.

On Thursday, McCollum went on a public relations tear. He released statistics suggesting that the ads are driving more people to his cyber safety Web site -- www.safeflorida.net -- and released statements from law enforcement and education officials praising his initiative.

''Protecting children is one of the highest callings of the attorney general, so I can understand him feeling principled about that,'' said Tallahassee attorney George LeMieux, who served as deputy attorney general under Crist.

The ad, which has aired in South and North Florida, is now slated to run for five weeks in Tampa, Orlando, Sarasota and Fort Myers. That keeps McCollum in the public eye while he decides whether to seek re-election or a higher office.

Read the full story at MiamiHerald.com

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