Just days after launching a radio ad in the Orlando market blaming Charlie Crist for "for a lost generation of African-Americans," the mysterious political group Progressive Voice is back with a new ad running in North Florida that calls one of Crist's marquee political efforts as a Republican state legislator "reminiscent of slavery."
The thing is no one has any idea who is behind this group.
The latest ad rips into Crist for his former nickname of "Chain Gang Charlie." It was a nickname he earned back in the '90s for introducing a bill that would reintroduce literal chain gangs into the Florida penal system. It was a nickname he embraced during his 2006 gubernatorial race, then, obviously, as a Republican, when some in his former party were attacking him for being too moderate. (In retrospect, they did have a pretty good point.)
The Orlando Sentinel points out that at the time then-House Speaker Peter Wallace, a Democrat, dismissed the chain gang bill as dredging up images of slavery. The bill never passed, and Crist made no effort to actually reintroduce chain gangs during his governorship. He was, however, tough on punishment throughout his single term.
So who is Progressive Florida, the group running the ad?
Well, they're a group that claims to represent progressive voters nationally, though they've only been active in Florida, mostly attacking Crist. (They also sent out a mailer this week claiming that Crist and Rick Scott are "one in the same.") They're also incorporated out of Delaware, and, through campaign finance law loopholes, they'll never have to divulge who their donors are as long as they stop running ads a month before Crist's Democratic primary. They're not voluntarily releasing that information either. They say, in part, because they fear their donors will face retaliations from the mainstream Florida Democratic establishment. That's the story anyway.
The only name publicly associated with the group is Jamie Fontaine-Gansell, who is identified as a spokeswoman. According to her LinkedIn, she's based in Baltimore. In 2007, she spent six months as the national political director of the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund. She has since worked at her own firm, Fontaine & Company.
She's also white but seems adamant about discussing important racial issues that are pertinent to Florida's African-American community, which apparently includes chain gangs.
"Conversations about race are difficult -- but they are necessary," she told the Orlando Sentinel in an e-mail. "Ours is an effort to create a dialogue around important issues that are not being discussed -- or debated -- across the country. This is particularly true right now in Florida, where residents would benefit from real conversation and debate on these issues."
The group also supported a petition calling for Crist to debate his Democratic primary challenger Nan Rich.
There's, of course, two pretty obvious theories as to who is behind the group:
- Actual Florida (or at least national) progressives who do have real concerns with Crist (as one would expect with a former Republican) and would like to see Rich as the nominee. The problem with that is that one would assume those same progressives would be funneling more money into Rich's actual campaign, or at least created a shadowy out-of-state group that supported Rich.
- Republicans who are hoping to turn African-American voters off Charlie Crist with the goal of lessening overall African-American voter turnout in November.
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For what it's worth, the Crist campaign believes the latter, calling the latest radio ad, "a new low for Rick Scott and his special interest donors."
Floridians, however, may never know the truth.