Did Murphy Use The Town Logo Illegally?

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Incumbent politicians are hard to defeat. They are out in the public, cutting ribbons, riding in parades and attending meetings. When they are given an unfair advantage it becomes even harder to challenge them. Fort Myers Beach Mayor Ray Murphy took it upon himself to use the Town of Fort Myers Beach logo in his campaign materials, something no other candidate was allowed to do.

It all started early last week when we noticed that Murphy was using the town logo on his newly launched re-elect Facebook page. The Fort Myers Beach government logo is trademarked and copyrighted. It cannot simply be lifted by anyone to use as they wish.

For example, three weeks ago, a business in Times Square was ordered to remove a painting of the logo from its building. Code enforcement told the restaurant owner that the logo was trademarked and copyrighted and could not be painted on the building without the town’s permission. And, the town did not want to be seen as endorsing one business over another. The same rule should apply to Murphy’s campaign. Why should the town government be seen as endorsing one candidate over the others?

When Patrick Romcoe, also a candidate for town council, asked if he could use the logo in his campaign materials, he was told by the town he needed to get town council approval. How did Murphy get approval? The council hasn’t met for over a month.

We reached out to local political consultant Tim Miller who says if the logo was created with public funds, it should not have been used. Miller says when he helps incumbents in their re-election bids, the seal of the office they are occupying are never used.

Here’s what the state election rulebook says about using your office in an election: “No officer or employee of the state, or of any county or municipality thereof, shall: Use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or a nomination of office or coercing or influencing another person’s vote or affecting the result thereof.

On Friday of last week, we asked town attorney John Herin if what Murphy used was an authorized use of the Fort Myers Beach logo, whether it was an endorsement for the candidate by the town, and if all candidates were allowed to use the town logo in their campaigns. Herin ignored our request for a comment at first. After a second e-mail asking for a response, here’s what he said: “Mr. Ryan – the Town is in communications with the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Florida Division of Elections, as under Florida law they are the agencies responsible for interpreting and enforcing the state’s election and ethics laws, rules, and regulations at the local government law level.

We continued to investigate and ask questions.

When we followed up Monday looking for answers, here’s what Herin said: “Based upon guidance received from the Florida Commission on Ethics, which I relayed to Mayor Murphy, it is my understanding that he has removed the town logo from wherever it was posted online and was assured it would not be re-posted. Accordingly the matter is deemed closed.”

Only it wasn’t closed. For at least 12 more hours after Herin sent his e-mail to us that the matter was “deemed closed,” the town logo remained up on Murphy’s re-elect page. It was changed shortly before our newsletter when out this morning.

Herin’s response also leads to another question: Why is the taxpayer funded town attorney giving free legal advice to a political candidate for office? And, does that have to be listed on Murphy’s July financial report as an in-kind contribution from the town?

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