Herald-/tribune | by Ryan McKinnon | March 30, 2021
Former Sarasota County School Board member Eric Robinson is suing a political consultant who filed elections complaints against him, alleging that the complaints were politically motivated and designed to help Robinson’s opponent in last year’s School Board race.
George Thurlow, a Pinellas County-based political consultant, filed several complaints against Robinson, alleging that a political action committee for which Robinson served as treasurer had inappropriately received a $2,500 contribution from a company with a Canadian address.
Robinson said those complaints, which were all eventually dismissed, were drummed up to help Robinson’s opponent, Tom Edwards, who ended up winning the election by four percentage points.
“It had a huge impact. It probably cost me the election,” Robinson said on Tuesday. “But that’s beside the point. It’s the reputation damage and malice of it all. But, yeah it cost me the election without a doubt.”ERIC ROBINSON
At this point, Robinson is suing Thurlow for legal expenses, which Robinson said amounted to roughly $25,000 so far.
“He went freaking insane,” Robinson said. “I had to hire multiple attorneys.”
Robinson said he would likely be suing Edwards as well. Edwards paid Thurlow $2,000 around the time the complaints were filed. On Tuesday, Edwards said that money was for Thurlow’s work helping coordinate vendors during the campaign and that he had no involvement with the complaints Thurlow filed.
“Somehow or another Mr. Robinson thinks that it is important to sue, stay in the news,” Edwards said. “I don’t know. It seems to me it is time for everyone to move on and heal the School District, heal the community.”
In addition to the complaint with the Florida Elections Commission, Thurlow filed complaints with the State Attorney’s Office and the Federal Elections Commission.
“Each of these complaints were filed for political purposes to damage Respondent’s personal and professional reputation and candidacy in his school board race,” Robinson’s suit states.
The criminal complaint was dropped when the State Attorney’s Office declined to file charges and the elections complaint was tossed this year after Florida Elections Commission Executive Director Tom Vaccaro found the original allegation to be “legally insufficient.”
Vaccaro gave Thurlow 14 days to produce any additional evidence. On Feb. 26 Vaccaro sent a letter saying the case was closed because Thurlow had not provided any additional evidence.
Edwards said he “had no involvement with the complaint” and that Thurlow filed it on his own volition. He said that his own campaign was subject to an elections complaint over a clerical error, but that instead of suing, he was allowing the process to unfold.
“Do you hear me threatening lawsuits?” Edwards said. “I don’t have time for that.”