With a slew of lawmakers, including Senate President Jeff Atwater, running for higher office this year, Senate Rules Chairman Alex Villalobos delivered a stern warning to members about using staff for campaign purposes.
Villalobos, who would have been in Atwater’s presidential shoes were it not for a coup staged by Atwater and his backers more than two years ago, sent a memo to the Senate’s 40 members outlining what their aides can – and mostly cannot – while on the clock.
Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, is leaving office early to run statewide for chief financial officer. Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson, forced out because of term limits, is running for Congress, along with Democratic state Sens. Frederica Wilson of Miami, Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg and Palm Beach County’s own Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. Senate Majority Leader Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, is also expected to run for Congress.
And Sens. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres and Dan Gelber of Miami Beach are running statewide in a Democratic primary for attorney general.
Senate staff can’t use annual leave or comp time to work on campaigns, nor can they work on a campaign during their lunch hour, Villalobos wrote.
They can volunteer after hours, that means outside the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
But aides can’t take a paying job with a campaign unless they get permission from Atwater and take leave-without-pay first.
“A Senator who uses staff paid by the Senate to work on his or her campaign while ‘on duty’ may be liable for theft,” Villalobos wrote. If the employee earned more than $5,000 or more as a state worker, the crime is a felony.
And the staffer who works on the campaign could also be liable for theft.
Oh, and no using state equipment like telephones or computers for campaign stuff. That’s a misdemeanor.