Political interlopers problematic for Privateers

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Carol Whitmore, who is seeking re -election this year to the big seat of Manatee County District 6, was sailing down Pine Avenue in the latter part of the Anna Maria Island Privateers parade on July 4. Whitmore’s convertible was decorated with political campaign signs . Islander Photo: Lisa Neff

Like oil and water, politics and nonprofits do not mix.

Anna Maria Island Privateers president Kim “Syren” Boyd wrote in an email on July 8 to The Islander that political signs carried by at least two entries in the Privateers ’Independence Day Parade could jeopardize nonprofit status of the organization.

Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore rode with her daughter, Janae Rudacille, in a convertible decorated with signs advertising her campaign for re-election to the large commission seat in District 6.

Whitmore will face two challengers in the Aug. 23 Republican primary. There are also two write-in candidates in the general election in November.

A truck with decals promoting Tampa’s tree-cutting service carries a campaign flag for former President Donald Trump-who is not yet a candidate for office in 2024.

Also, some participants of a Jeep club displayed Trump flags as they traveled the parade route from Bradenton Beach to Anna Maria.

Another vehicle featuring campaign signs promoting Jason Bearden, one of Whitmore’s challengers, preceded the parade procession and was not an official entry.

The U.S. Internal Revenue Code prohibits nonprofits from “directly or indirectly participating in, or interfering with, any political campaign” and states that violations “may result in denial or revocation of tax-exempt status,” according to irs.gov.

Boyd distances AMIP and its parade from political enthusiasm.

“(Privateers) do not support or endorse any political party, candidate or political belief,” Boyd wrote. “We have already spoken to a representative from each vehicle alerting them to our rule and the penalty of such an incident.”

The application to participate in the AMIP parade states, “As a Non-Profit 501 (c) (3) organization, we cannot allow any activity related to political advertising, solicitation, campaigning or endorsements.”

It also states that entries must be approved by AMIP with “no exceptions” but Boyd said some may have leaked through the cracks. This year’s event has no official parade presentation to ensure entries follow parade rules.

However, it is not clear whether a presentation officer caught the violations.

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer told The Islander on July 8 that he saw no political signage on vehicles in the staging area until 15 minutes before the parade left Coquina Beach.

Tokajer expressed condolences for AMIP, saying there was “no way” to enforce the policies on a 7-mile stretch from Bradenton Beach to Anna Maria.

“Once the parade floats leave the staging area, we will not be able to track each parade float for the 7 miles we have traveled nor will we be able to prevent other floats from entering the parade,” Boyd wrote. “Late arrivals and floats entering while the procession is on the route occur regularly due to traffic issues, motor vehicle issues and other various reasons.”

As a result of the incident, Boyd wrote that AMIP will review its presentation policies and protocols but they may decide not to punish violators.

“Privateers do not feel that these actions were done maliciously or intentionally,” Boyd wrote. “Both (offenders) were very apologetic and said it would never happen again.”

Whitmore told The Islander on July 8 that he was unaware that political campaign signage was banned on parade vehicles because he had displayed signs in recent years. He said his signs were in place from the start but he came close to the launch and to “behind” the procession.

He added that he saw five to seven other floats with political signage, including several “Let’s go Brandon” signs and decals.

“They used to have someone there to check on you … but nobody,” Whitmore said. “I didn’t know it was against the rules and I don’t think anyone there knew.”

He calls himself an “honorary Privateer,” saying his father is part of the organization, and added that he respects AMIP’s policies and he will follow forward.

“I’ll do whatever they want us to do,” Whitmore said. “If the Privateers don’t want political (signs) there should be nothing. … Now that they have told me, I say ‘Don’t worry, I will never do it again.’ ”

Regardless of political zeal, both Boyd and Tokajer spoke positively about the event and the enthusiasm of the paradegoers.

“Privateers are very proud and we celebrated our successful parade which was over attended by seven miles of spectators and 145 parade vehicles. We were pleased that there were no reports of damage from the water toys and tremendous fun was had by all in attendance, ”Boyd wrote.

“It was a great event,” Tokajer said. “It was great to attend and I was happy to participate.”