Mayor Calls For Controls On Campaigning By Election Office




mike ryan


The following is an open e-mail Mayor Mike Ryan of Sunrise calling for a policy governing political activity by any Elections Office lawyer.

The background:  Commissioner Mark Bogen last week called for a clear policy governing Supervisor of Elections Brenda Snipes’ attorney. He did this after discovering that the office lawyer Burnadette Norris-Weeks had actively taken part in campaigns.

An early post about that is linked here.

Bogen now has the support of Ryan, one of Broward’s most outspoken and thoughtful mayors.

Ryan suggests a new policy to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest.  He mentions either a ban or full disclosure of such campaigning.

Here is Ryan’s letter:


Mayor, Vice Mayor, Commissioners and Dr. Snipes:

The courts have determined that the right to make financial campaign contributions is a free speech right. However, as every lawyer knows, no constitutional right is absolute, unfettered and without some limits, including the right to make campaign contributions.

A lawyer for any SOE, by definition, influences decisions that are important, can impact the expenditure of taxpayer resources due to litigation and could jeopardize continuity of government through the advice provided. Legal advice can determine whether an election proceeds or accommodations are made, and whether or not costly litigation is initiated.

If the lawyer giving advice to the SOE is contributing to one side of a local campaign involved in the SOE mission (or contributing to both but in differing amounts), some will always question whether or not the decision of the SOE is based upon unbiased advice. Would we let umpires or referees wear the jersey of one of the teams on the field? Would we think it is a good public policy for an individual SOE to provide financial support to a candidate’s campaign where there could be an election dispute?

This discussion is not a slight against the lawyer, but about ideals which transcend any individual — appearances of conflict of interest, integrity of elections and transparency of government. While there is a right to contribute financially to a campaign, being the SOE’s lawyer is no right, it is a privilege.

According to news reports, the lawyer defends the right to contribute to campaigns in which the lawyer may need to provide the SOE legal advice by arguing: once Broward County vendors are restricted from campaign contributions then the lawyer “will fall in line.” Then, reportedly the lawyer argued that if Commissioner Bogen is “so interested in ethics, he should sponsor an ordinance banning county commissioners from accepting campaign contributions from county vendors and contractors.”

Such arguments deflect and fail to fully acknowledge the impact a lawyer for the SOE can have on the integrity of the election process by the advice provided on debatable issues of law and interpretation of facts. Maybe vendors need to be restricted, maybe not. Maybe a proposed restriction on the SOE’s lawyer financial contributions will spark a constitutional crisis and litigation. But, the lawyer for a SOE is not a printing company, envelope maker or a vending machine candy supplier. The SOE’s lawyer can impact the outcome of an election and policy for generations.

More astonishing are the allegations that the SOE appears to have been completely unaware of the financial contributions by the attorney in 2012 and 2014 election cycles (and who knows how many other election cycles), the SOE had no policy against such financial contributions, the SOE had no policy requiring disclosure of such contributions, and the SOE allowed the lawyer to provide advice on an election in which the lawyer contributed money to a candidate involved in the litigation. This is not to say the financial support for any particular candidate had anything to do with the legal advice given or the interpretation of the law. However, the appearance should be a concern to all.

If a lawyer wants to be, for whatever reasons, politically influential by being involved in various campaigns and providing financial support for campaigns, they can and should be able to do so — but that does not mean they should be the SOE’s lawyer. The lawyer should choose between the personal value of being involved in campaigns countywide and being the SOE’s lawyer. Either choice is fine, but a choice should be made nonetheless.

Commissioner Bogen is spot-on to support a firm, absolute and well-defined policy, especially since the SOE seems to have never even thought about the issue and wasn’t prepared to concede how such financial contributions impact the appearance of integrity at the SOE’s office.

On the other hand, if a restriction is not permissible or not seen as a worthy public policy, then why not require disclosure of the campaign contributions by the SOE’s lawyer, and related entities, in real time? Let the public decide as to whether or not the SOE is taking the right course in an election dispute based upon the merits of the election dispute or because perhaps the advice given is influenced by support for one side or another. Of course, no rational SOE would want any election controversy to be defined by the appearance of a conflict of interest as opposed to the merits of the pending election dispute. That is exactly why a policy is needed and should be initiated by the SOE.

As a matter of disclosure, I was one of the lead volunteer lawyers in the litigation against the SOE’s office involving the CSC ballot initiative problems (Citizens for Broward’s Children vs. Dr. Brenda Snipes). Since we prevailed through a settlement that had terms virtually identical to what we proposed before needing to file the lawsuit, my viewpoints are not the product of “sour-grapes.” – we prevailed. I do not seek to re-plow that ground and we appreciate that a settlement was ultimately reached. Instead, my viewpoints herein are directed towards policy issues far broader than specific individuals or any particular former election dispute.

Best regards,

Michael J. Ryan
Krupnick Campbell Malone et al.
Legacy Bank Building
12 Southeast 7th Street
Suite 801
Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33301

12 Responses to “Mayor Calls For Controls On Campaigning By Election Office”

  1. Not Brenda Snipes says:

    Once again, Ryan hit the nail on the head. He should be Broward’s mayor

  2. Smarty Pants says:

    Thank you Mayor Ryan. Once again you snow us that you are a leader.
    Ryan for Strong Mayor of Broward!

  3. bcdevelopvet says:

    Mayor makes the point very well… There’s more than just the appearance of bias going on w\ the SOE Office on this particular issue….. the office is fraught with all kinds of problems stemming from poor management …..ironic the it’s title is “Supervisor” of elections office, when there’s obviously very little supervision going on.

  4. Brody McGregor says:

    Well, well, well…… The mouthy mouth piece has returned with vengeance. Although the mayor’s rants are typically excessive in nature I think he has definitely hit the nail on its head regarding this topic. SOE attorney sound like an arms dealers selling both sides.

    As for Mayor Ryan being Broward’s Mayor…… would make the commission meetings extremely longer, but I think the county government could use a few white gloves to run through it.

  5. David Gilbert Brown says:

    I applaud Commissioner Mark Bogen’s call for the Supervisor of Elections Office to institute a firm and broad ethics policy. Current State law already prohibits a Judge or a County Commissioner from serving on the all-important election Canvasing Board with the SOE (which is ultimately responsible for certification of elections) in any election where they are participating or have even the appearance of a conflict of interest. If the Supervisor does not understand the need to immediately institute an ethics policy covering the office, its employees and non-physical supplies venders and the Commission cannot direct the Supervisor to institute an ethics policy to extend the same legal prohibition to the office’s attorney(s) who provides legal advice to the Supervisor’s office (because it is a constitutional office) then the Commission should advocate that the state law be expanded. Hopefully the Supervisor will see the light and do it on her own. There are many in Broward who are finally watching.

    Mayor Ryan is right on target in describing the failure of the current SOE to even know her own attorney’s involvement in campaigns is occurring let alone her refusal to implement an office ethics policy when such excesses became known to her. At a minimum, the current outside attorney should self-impose a ban on any involvement in any election that touches any Broward voter.
    The recent Commission workshop on the SOE’s budget identified many additional issues that rightly deserve critical evaluation. To me the SOE’s office should be the primary force to increase voter turnout and run problem free elections. That is the platform I ran on in 2000 against Miriam Oliphant to become the Broward SOE. Miriam defeated me in a run-off election after we were the top vote getters in the August Primary. We all know how her tenure in that office ended. I sure do…but more about that soon.

  6. Count L F Chodkiewicz Chudzikiewicz says:

    I wish everyone who wants to participate in American municipal county or state politics would be required to read THE LAST HURRAY first! It is “dated” in that there are no womens’ rights, gay and lesbian activists, or Black or Hispanic advocates or, in the case of many places in the West and Virginia, Asian activists, but in the main its wisdom does apply to every one in that the rich and privileged always try to have “HIGH MORAL STANDARDS” while looking down on less privileged people for “sleazy ethics”. Frankly Suetonius, Tacitus, Flavius Josephus and Plutarch wouldn’t be amiss in a required reading list BEFORE people like Commissioner Bogan and Mayor Ryan make these “apparently sound” moral judgements. Since the first minute I attended an event in Fort Lauderdale City Hall I was told (off the record of course) that a Black official got their job thru “political deals” while their colleagues got theirs from “professional recruitment”. Later I was appalled when one of the Fort Lauderdale City Commissioners “off handledly” said his colleagues voted “on their idea of the merits” but the sole Black City Commissioner “was in developers back pocket”!
    The sole Black Commissioner in Fort Lauderdale is criticized for not living in Fort Lauderdale despite winning his case repeatedly in court, yet a Jewish State Senator and a Jewish Congressman have voted and use addresses where they never lived and no one said a word!
    Mr. Nevins honestly pointed out that Commissioner Bogan, and now Mayor Ryan I believe HAVE NO LARGE GROUP OF BLACK VOTERS, but DO YOU THINK IF AN IRISH AMERICAN or JEWISH AMERICAN elected official died or DOES ANY OF THE THINGS THEY ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT THEY WOULD SAY A WORD???? Everyone knows the answer!

    I worked in the New York City Board of Elections, and people who say there is such a thing as a “NON POLITICAL” BOARD OF ELECTIONS ARE FROM PLANET BIZZARO! You can have a Bipartisan Board of Elections with a fifty-fifty split between Democrats and Republicans but a PURELY NON PARTISAN BOARD OF ELECTIONS JUST DOESNT EXIST! Under European, Australia, New Zealand, and Canadian systems, yes, but AMERICA HAS A DIFFERENCE LEGAL and POLITICAL HISTORY AND GOVERNMENT.
    It is great to say this Black Builder gets only public work or that Black lawyer only gets public clients or that Black non profit only gets government funding, BUT the NAKED TRUTH IS THAT THE 30% PLUS OF BROWARD and FT LAUDERDALE’s POPULATIONS are not only BLACK, but POOR and there are no BLACK BILLIONAIRES, no BLACK CEOs of FORTUNE 500 COMPANIES that can fund or create jobs. So, while I applaude Commissioner Bogan and Sunrise Mayor Ryan for trying to RAISE ETHICAL STANDARDS in BROWARD COUNTY, let’s not be HYPOCRITES and ignore the context of why Blacks are involved in government because their choices are LIMITED IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR, and let’s not complain about “ethical lapses” when the County Commissioners and City Mayors and Commissioners give variances and change parking requirements and give out high priced but meaningless consultancies to their IRISH AMERICAN, ITALIAN AMERICAN, JEWISH AMERICAN, and WASP FRIENDS, POLITICAL ALLIES, AND EVEN RELATIVES!


    This is the only letter I have received in four decades in journalism that has references to Suetonius, Tacitus, Flavius Josephus, Plutarch and the Planet Bizarro from DC Comics’ world of Superman.

  7. Jack Moss says:

    Since the labor of the original Charter Commission in the early ’70’s, I have always advocated that the Supervisor of Elections be an appointed position, and at least one-step removed from daily politics. Perhaps now is the time!


    Jack Moss was a Broward County Commissioner for two terms in the 1970s and then was a member of the Downtown Development Authority in Fort Lauderdale.

  8. City Activist Robert Walsh says:

    #6-my ass there Is no Black millionaires in this town. You never heard of Milton Jones, George Allen etc. to name a couple. And further more the review of Dr.snipes has nothing to do w/ her being black(and that notion is a cheap shot and not warranted-for Christ sake Snipes has a dr. degree….And I doubt its an honorary one(or did Jeb Bush appoint you that too….)

  9. Thoughtful says:

    Is the author of this article the same “Ryan” whom he described as “one of Broward’s most outspoken and thoughtful mayors”?

    If so, I would like to go on record as declaring myself as one of the most outspoken and thoughtful commenters on this site.

  10. Vernon says:

    Commissioner Brogan and Mayor Ryan deserves praise for beginning a debate about the future direction of the supervisor’s office. Things have gone downhill for years with long lines and screw ups. There needs to be a change.

  11. just saying says:

    where is Jane Carroll when we need her?

  12. Ryan Sucks says:

    Look for Ryan for run for Supervisor of Elections and for Judy Stern to be his campaign manager. Ryan is all about Ryan. This is the diversion of the year.