As a six-term incumbent, Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Jacksonville, should have no trouble amassing a significant number of votes during today’s election. But she is now using an interesting tactic to increase voter turnout — free food.
Brown is being challenged by Virginia native Mike Yost, a self-professed “political outsider” and former auto mechanic, and, according to Yost’s campaign manager, Brown’s new tactics border on election fraud. Nick Zoller says that Brown’s use of food coupons is a form of “vote-buying,” which is not only unethical, but illegal: “She’s been up to her usual ethics violations and pay-to-play tactics in order to gain votes.”
In an interview with The Florida Independent, one voter referred to us by the Yost campaign told of her experience at a polling place near Jacksonville’s Gateway Mall, where Brown’s headquarters are located. Tiffany (who asked that we leave out her last name) went to vote with a friend and was met with several Brown supporters.
“Me and another girl I’m friends with went to vote and we had to pass a group of Brown supporters to get inside,” she says. “They were yelling out, ‘Free hot dogs, free hot dogs,’ so I went over to ask about how I could get one. I was handed a flyer that said ‘Corrine’s Quick Picks,’ with all of Corrine’s picks for the election.” The volunteers, whom Tiffany says were holding up signs that read, “Vote for Corrine,” told her that she could head to the Brown campaign headquarters after voting and receive a free hot dog, so long as she showed her “I voted” sticker.
Others, who went to vote in the Orlando area, were given literature that offered a “get out the vote lunch special” at soul food restaurant Mama Nems’. According to the flyer, the first 350 to vote on Oct. 29 would receive a complimentary coupon for lunch.
And in a robo-call paid for by “friends of Corrine Brown,” the congresswoman mentions the Mama Nems’ lunch special while urging constituents to head to the polls.
The Mama Nems’ flyer:
“According to federal law, it doesn’t matter if it’s an offer of something worth a penny or $20,000,” Zoller says. “It’s still a violation and she’s been doing it for years and years.” Zoller adds that the Yost campaign plans to make it a legal issue. “We’ve received a lot of opinions from attorneys that this is a legal issue and that this flyer and voicemail are proof. Earlier today, we filed a complaint with federal elections officials and we are starting to work with a U.S. attorney and a state attorney.”
Brown’s spokesperson, Ronnie Simmons, says that his campaign has no comment on the matter, other than that it isn’t true that Brown is engaging in illegal vote-buying activities.