In August, a political committee not officially tied to any candidate, but responsible for several negative flyers targeting candidates running for Ocala office, received almost $35,000 from local companies and individuals, according to state records.
Accountability In Government Inc. has sent out numerous flyers both in support of candidates Barry Mansfield and Ty Schlichter and against city council incumbents Jay Musleh and Brent Malever. Mansfield is running against Malever for the District 1 seat and Schlichter is running against Musleh for District 3.
The same group also ran a digital campaign with pop-up ads and a direct mail piece calling mayoral candidate Manal Fakhoury “A wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
The mailers have tied Malever and Musleh to raising taxes, saying no to term limits and considering increased city council pay. The ads use headlines from newspaper articles but are not presented in context nor detail the ultimate votes on the measures.
Malever responded with a flyer of his own highlighting the connection between Mansfield and current Council President Justin Grabelle, whom Mansfield previously said was working with his campaign.
The flyer reads: “Say No to Ocala’s Corruption” and features a superimposed photo of Mansfield held up by puppet strings.
Mansfield and Schlichter have said they have no connection with Accountability In Government and did not authorize the ads.
But the PAC’s expenditure reports show they have paid political consulting company Data Targeting Inc. more than $14,600 for advertising through the end of August. It’s the only vendor on the expenditure report.
Grabelle is listed as the director of business development for the Gainesville-based company.
Rich Bianculli, who donated $7,500 to the PAC through his Richmond Hill Capital Partners company, said his contribution was due to his opposition to Fakhoury as mayor.
“Manal Fakhoury supports people in congress that support defunding police. She would oversee the chief of police, and that is a frightening thought,” said Bianculli, who is also the chairman of the Marion County Hospital District Board of Trustees.
“That is the main impetus for us giving money,” he said. “She mirrors the ideology of the people she supports, which is a reasonable assumption.”
While Fakhoury has supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, she has also donated to Republican candidates.
Donations to Accountability In Government also came from Florida Express Environmental ($10,000); Ocala Health CEO Chad Christianson ($5,000); R Thad Boyd II Living Trust ($5,000); Central Florida Gaming Inc. ($5,000); and Recharge LLC. ($2,000).
Bianculli said having a full view of a candidate is important to the voters.
“Sometimes you need to see 360 degrees of a candidate, not just their positive,” he said.