Brooksville, FL–In late-December, the Suncoast Standard received an anonymous letter, copies of campaign financial reports, a copy of a fundraising event graphic, and a blown-up picture of an envelope being exchanged alleging that Natalie Kahler, a Brooksville City Councilwoman and Hernando County Commissioner candidate, was breaking campaign finance rules. Both Kahler, and her opponent, incumbent Hernando County Commissioner, Jeff Holcomb, commented on the campaign finance reporting allegations.
The anonymous letter states the following:
“Please review the material enclosed it shows a candidate for County Commission, Natalie Kahler is breaking campaign finance rules!
Go to Natalie’s Facebook page for the date 10/16/2017, there is a video showing current County Commissioner Steve Champion handing Natalie K a check which he says is for $1000. That check was never disclosed on her October report, campaign violation. Attached is a copy of her campaign report showing $0 contributions for October. There are 2 $1000 contributions from Commissioner Champion. 1 from his business “AM Gun & Pawn” on 11/1/2017 and a personal check dated 11/15/2017. One of these checks has been fraudulently submitted. One of these checks should have been dated in October and should have been submitted in October financial report. She should be challenged as to why her finances have been submitted fraudulently.
Natalie Kahler had a fundraiser at Chinsegut Hill Retreat on 11/19/2017 and did not list an expense for the facility. As a candidate she cannot get the facility for free. If she did get the facility it must be an In-Kind donation. If she paid for the facility it was not listed on her expense report. It should be noted that she works at the facility and takes a commission for booking events at the facility. This facility is a taxpayer funded government owned facility that she is using for her own benefit, apparently for free without disclosure. That shows questionable character and ethics for someone who is seeking to take care of taxpayer funds.”
Not every anonymous tip becomes a story.
But a video on Kahler’s Facebook campaign page from an October 16th campaign event shows Champion handing Kahler an envelope, stating at about the 9:18 mark: “…and she mentions she needs money and I’m going to mention it right now – you need probably between 60 and 80 thousand dollars to win, especially against an incumbent – so there’s a lot of money to be raised but…I’m going to start off with the first thousand dollar check.”
However, on Kahler’s October campaign financial report no contribution from Oct. 16 can be found.
Both Kahler and Champion told the Standard in separate phone interviews that it was just an envelope that was exchanged on October 16; that an actual check wasn’t exchanged until later, even though Champion clearly references the envelope as a check during the video.
After a second exchange, seeking further clarification, Kahler submitted a written statement to the Standard, concerning the second issue raised by the anonymous source. “The Friends of Chinsegut Hill is a non-profit that manages Chinsegut Hill Retreat and Museum and which relys heavily on both volunteers and donations. Upon request, Friends volunteers can request use of the facility as long as their donation of materials or time is greater than the rental cost – for example, our arborist held a wedding on the grounds and several volunteers have used the dining hall for parties. As someone who donates between 30-50 hours weekly for Events and the Museum, I was able to use the Manor porch for free. I also chose to purchase items (such as flowers and decor) to donate to the Hill following the event.”
Kahler explained that her November campaign expenditure at Lowe’s was for poinsettias that were used at her event but left behind at Chinsegut after her fundraising event concluded as Christmas season decorations.
When Kahler was asked if other candidates would be able to use the facility as a campaign venue, free of charge, through a similar exchange of donated items or volunteer service time, she said that the venue has a long history of hosting political events and that the venue would be fair in offering a similar arrangement to any other political campaign.
Still, questions remain.
Is it best practice for a candidate to itemize expenditures for a campaign event and then seek to also characterize such expenditures as a contribution to a non-profit? Why did Champion use an envelope as a prop at Kahler’s campaign kickoff event when Kahler opened up her campaign account for county commissioner on October 16, the very same day as her campaign kickoff event?
Holcomb was interviewed about the allegations facing Kahler. He asked how his opponent responded to the allegations and when Kahler’s explanation was shared submitted a brief written statement to the Standard. “I am not sure I understand her explanation, but it seems to me that she acknowledges that she did not follow the rules. I hope this behavior doesn’t continue.”
As of the December financial reports, Holcomb holds a commanding fundraising lead over Kahler, $27,134.68 to $7,245. Of the $7,245 raised by Kahler, $3,000 has been donated by sitting Hernando County Commissioners, their businesses, or their immediate family members.
Updated on 1/26/18 at 10:14 PM from an earlier January newsprint article.