Public Workers Form Their Own PAC

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Group wants to get their message to Floridians
12:15 AM, Aug. 16, 2011 |
By Bill Cotterell
Florida Capital Bureau

It won’t be a big political-action committee with millions of dollars to spread around among powerful legislators and the political parties, but a group of public employees is forming a PAC to speak out for government workers in Florida.

“If the 2011 Florida legislative session taught us anything, it’s that public employees and the vital services they provide are targeted for attack,” Robert Asencio, a Miami-Dade County schools police officer, wrote in a fundraising letter to other public workers.

Asencio said Monday the Florida Public Employees Partnership PAC has incorporated, set up a bank account, hired an attorney and lined up a communications agency. He emphasized that “we’re just starting this thing from scratch, we’re nowhere near where we need to get.” Once the legal details are finished, he said, FPEP PAC hopes to raise money to support legislators and candidates for county offices who are supportive of public workers, but that it will not be a high-finance operation.

“We’re trying to build a partnership with Floridians,” he said. “Public employees are no different from the average Floridian who’s hurting.”

Political-action committees are formed by industries, trade associations or other organizations – including environmental groups, businesses and labor unions – and their main “political action” is making campaign contributions. Asencio said FPEP PAC will do some of that but its main activity will be contacting legislators with facts and data, along with public outreach to show taxpayers facts about public employment.

“This is a PAC of unity. If we can get the right message out, it’s my opinion that the main way to go about this is to win over the hearts and minds of the public,” he said. “The outcry of the people will far outweigh the dollars that any organization has.”

State Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, said an additional voice for public employees will be welcome. Her Leon-Gadsden-Jefferson County district has the largest concentration of state employees in the House.

“The message they’re espousing is a good one. I think that the average Floridian has a disconnect in knowing what employees do for them,” she said of the new PAC.

During the past legislative session, about 4,500 positions were eliminated at the state level, resulting in some 1,500 layoffs June 30. Lawmakers also imposed a 3 percent contribution for retirement plans, which had previously been fully paid by employers in the Florida Retirement System.

Asencio said one of the project’s first steps will be to produce videos to post online and show legislators and the public what government workers do and how their earnings and benefits compare to the private sector. Asencio said Florida Public Employees Partnership PAC wants to “promote a partnership with all Floridians who are being affected” by cuts in government services.

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