Watchdog: Follow the Money

Florida state transportation officials review campaign's misuse of public funds

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — The state Department of Transportation has launched an investigation into how the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority spent public money to educate voters about an expanded bus system and light rail project called Greenlight Pinellas.

The Tampa Bay Times reports that state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, sent a letter to FDOT Secretary Ananth Prasad accusing the campaign of using about $800,000 for propaganda purposes, violating a state law that requires taxpayer money to be spent only on educational campaigns.

Officials with FDOT's Inspector General started a review after meeting with Brandes on Thursday.

PSTA spokesman Bob Lasher says the agency welcomes the review and has provided information to help the inquiry. He says the money was spent on educational outreach efforts, including websites, graphics and consultants.

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