A special general election update
Robert “Foxy Fox and Ryan Chamberlin
As the May 16 special general election to fill House Seat 24 inches closer, voters are left to decide between two candidates, both of whom are Republican. One is Ryan Chamberlin, a conservative political activist and multilevel sales marketing expert, and the other is write-in candidate Robert “Foxy” Fox, a bail bondsman. There are no Democrats in the race to fill the seat vacated in December when incumbent Joe Harding, an Ocala Republican, resigned after being indicted on multiple federal fraud charges.
With less than a month to go before election day, here is an update on the race:
Fox is not backing down
As previously reported by the “Gazette,” Fox, said he was tricked into becoming a write-in candidate in the March 7 primary election by Chamberlin’s campaign manager Bret Doster, whom Fox said masqueraded as a representative of the state Republican Party.
Since only Republicans filed to fill the seat vacated by Harding, all registered voters in House District 24, regardless of party, would have been available to vote. However, when Fox filed as a write-in candidate, it triggered a stipulation that closed the primary to other party voters when only one party offers candidates and a write-in candidate also files to run. Other party voters get their say in the general election.
Upon learning that Doster represented Chamberlin’s campaign, Fox said he decided to run a campaign as a write-in candidate against Chamberlin seeking not only Republican voters but also the independent and Democrat voters who were blocked out of the primary.
Fox told the “Gazette” he has put out at least 1,000 campaign signs around the district and said he’s working full time to reach out to voters. Fox’s signs give instructions for how to place a vote for him, which includes filling in the bubble for the write-in candidate and writing his name.
A spokesperson for the Marion County Supervisor of Elections office told the “Gazette” their office would accept any of the following variations of Fox’s name written on the ballot:
Robert Foxy Fox
Of note, at least three of the four unsuccessful Republican candidates in the primary– Charlie Stone, Jose Juarez and Dr. Stephen Pyles–have placed signs on their home or business properties encouraging voters to choose Fox. All three have indicated to the “Gazette” that they feel Chamberlin’s team acted unethically during the primary campaign.
Defamation lawsuit emerges from the primary
As the primary campaign got under way, Chamberlin proposed a “clean campaign pledge” to his opponents. The timing was suspect because just then political attack ads linked to Chamberlin’s campaign began arriving in local mailboxes. In particular, the inflammatory mailers crafted by political action committees targeted Juarez and Stone, who came in second and third in the primary election. Both Juarez and Stone claimed Chamberlin’s clean campaign pledge was disingenuous and pointed to Doster as being behind the attack mail pieces.
Juarez has filed a lawsuit for defamation against Doster and his company, Front Line Agency, as well as a PAC called Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics, which sent out mailers.
In the complaint filed in Marion County Circuit Court, Juarez claims Chamberlin’s campaign management, through the PAC, conspired to send out mailers that defamed Juarez. One mailer alleged Juarez “scammed taxpayers” out of $214,000. A second mailer pictured Juarez, a Cuban immigrant, alongside what seems to be Mexican drug runners alleging Juarez was funded by “woke corporations” that supported illegal aliens bringing drugs into the U.S.
Both mailers proclaimed, “No way, Jose.”
The “Gazette” reviewed the last PAC financial reporting during the primary election and found financial contributions flowing from PACs with the same treasurer as Chamberlin’s campaign, Russell Doster, who is the brother of Bret Doster. The campaign funds went to a PAC named Florida First Forever. That PAC, in turn, contributed to Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics–the PAC being sued by Juarez.
The PAC mailers from Floridians for Ethics and Truth in Politics were sent out as “electioneering communications.” According to Florida Department of Elections’ PAC handbook, it is not illegal for candidates to coordinate with PACs for electioneering communications. However, Chamberlin declined to answer whether he coordinated those PAC attack mailers with Doster.
Following Chamberlin’s primary win, he has raised almost $20,000 primarily from PACs related to chiropractors, HCA hospital, lawyers and insurance companies.
His latest report says he’s raised $165,835 in total, $75,000 of which he says he loaned his campaign.
His expenditures total $90,470, the bulk of which–$67,210–has been paid to Doster’s company, Front Line Agency. Interestingly, Doster and his family have written checks totaling at least $6,000 to Chamberlin’s campaign.
Additionally, a new PAC called Friends of Ryan Chamberlin was formed on Jan. 23. It is chaired by Chamberlin’s uncle, Stanley Plappert, a local personal injury attorney. That PAC reports receiving $9,500 from different PACs and attorneys following Chamberlin’s primary win. Thus far, the PAC has not reported any expenditures.
Fox has raised $6,700, most of which he has self-funded. Of note, however, is that one of Chamberlin’s primary opponents, Dr. Stephen Pyles, has contributed to Fox’s campaign.