Log in Subscribe

Area Voters Targeted by Political Consultant's Mail Strategy


BRADENTON — As registered voters across Manatee County were checking their mailboxes in recent days, some found electioneering materials along with their usual postage. Though the letters and oversized postcards included a small-print disclaimer noting which candidate’s campaign paid for the mailing, more prominently visible language might have left some residents confused about the nature of the material. 

With bold-printed text, capitalized for emphasis, one of the campaign mail pieces read, “Official Voter Petitions Enclosed… DO NOT DISCARD.”

The mail piece was sent out by the “Kevin Van Ostenbridge for Manatee County Commission District 3” campaign and the enclosed “voter petitions” were standard candidate petition forms.

A candidate petition form is provided by the state of Florida and available on the Manatee County Supervisor of Elections website. Collecting voter signatures on the forms is one way a candidate can qualify to have their name appear on the ballot in August and November. Another way a candidate can become “qualified” is by paying a qualification fee.

“Your personalized 2024 ballot petitions are enclosed, please review A.S.A.P.,” the outside of mail piece declared.

Voters who have never received electioneering materials by mail might be confused about what the items are, or are not, and who is sending them.

The recipients who opened the yellow-gold envelope found a four-page letter that appeared to have been signed by Van Ostenbridge. There was also a pre-filled-out candidate petition and a white prepaid envelope to mail the petition back after it was signed as requested.

Presumably, the outside of the envelope referred to the enclosed “personalized” petition, indicating that the recipient’s personal information had already been entered on the form. This included the recipients’ names, birthdates, voter registration numbers, and home addresses—details intended to be filled in by the voter.

Typically, candidate petitions are collected by candidates or campaign volunteers through “boots on the ground” methods such as carrying them door-to-door through neighborhoods or bringing them to community events. The expense of mailing the petitions, as Van Ostenbridge’s campaign had done, with free return postage, likely cost the campaign more than simply paying the filing fee would have. 

Despite the alternative names for the candidate petition that appeared on the envelope’s exterior, the letter inside explained the petition’s purpose. Even still, voters who are unfamiliar with a candidate petition could become confused or misled by the phrasing of the mail piece and possibly have believed that signing the petition was required to receive a ballot. 

The enclosed letter began, “A signature is a powerful thing. I need you to lend me yours to keep the Manatee County Commission conservative.”

Candidates who opt to collect signed petition forms to meet qualification requirements must collect signatures from registered voters who reside in the district they would represent if elected.

There is no restriction on the party affiliation of the voter who signs. Whether the candidate has filed to run as Democrat, Republican, NPA, or any other affiliation, any registered voter of any party (or nonparty) may sign their candidate petition.  Despite this fact, the letter shows that the Van Ostenbridge campaign was less concerned about getting as many voter signatures as possible and rather decided to target Republican voters specifically with his messaging. 

The letter told the reader that by signing the enclosed petition, Van Ostenbridge could avoid having to pay a “ballot tax” to appear as a candidate on the 2024 ballot.

All candidates for public office in Florida must either pay a qualifying fee or collect petition signatures from certain registered voters as part of the qualification process.

Besides any potential confusion about the petition, other details of the mailer appeared potentially misleading. For example, the return address on the yellow-gold envelope was a PO Box in downtown Bradenton, the same PO Box utilized by the Supervisor of Elections, Manatee County Commissioners, and even the State Attorney. Any recipients who might have tried to Google this address to better understand who sent the mail may mistakenly assume it was an official mailing from one of the three government offices.

In reality, the mail didn't originate from any local government office, and Florida Statutes, Chapter 104, strictly forbids government officers and/or offices from utilizing public buildings, assets, or resources for campaigning.

A prepaid US postage mark in the opposite upper corner of the yellow-gold envelope read, “Orlando, FL." and included a prepaid postage permit number of "1478."

The white prepaid envelope provided for mailing back signed petitions and/or campaign donations had an entirely different address. That envelope was addressed to the “Candidate Petition Department” located at “1509 E 9th Ave, Tampa, FL.” 

The Tampa address belongs to a political consulting firm called Strategic Image Management, or “SIMWINS.” The firm was founded by Anthony Pedicini, who serves as the political consultant to multiple Manatee County Commissioners and candidates, including Van Ostenbridge.

Over the years, TBT has published numerous reports that include information regarding Pedicini and his role in Manatee County politics and governance. Many of these previous stories can be found here and here.

Statewide, Pedicini is perhaps most known for helping his candidates win elections by utilizing a strategy that includes targeting uninformed voters with an aggressive campaign of highly negative opposition attacks, which many argue are often based on half-truths or outright lies. Over the years, some of his clients' opponents have brought lawsuits alleging defamation.

In the last three local election cycles, candidates represented by Pedicini ran on campaigns heavily focused on hot-button national issues—like guns or abortion—even though local policymakers often find themselves preempted by state and federal laws when it comes to such matters. 

Based on the first campaign pieces arriving in local mailboxes, it looks as though Pedicini’s candidates will again be honing in on national debates for the 2024 cycle. Messaging includes mentions of the southern border and immigration, as well as inflation, and overall seems to be a one-size-fits-every Pedicini candidate, rather than the candidate’s own words.

The SIMWINS copy/paste messaging and strategy can even be seen in electioneering materials of a client from outside of Manatee County. Florida State Representative, Senate District 19 Candidate, and Pedicini client Randy Fine recently shared a photo on his Facebook account. The post showed a campaign mailer nearly identical to Van Ostenbridge’s.

Click here to see Fine’s post on Facebook.

Besides the color and return address, Van Ostenbridge and Fine’s exterior envelopes appear identical. They even share the same paid postage stamp from Orlando and matching postage permit numbers.

The prepaid return envelopes inside also appear nearly identical, including that the petitions will be mailed to the “Candidate Petition Dept” at SIMWINS’ Tampa address. The prepaid postage permit number on the return envelopes also matches on Van Ostenbrige's and Fine’s mailings.

No photos were posted showing the entire letter sent with Fine’s mailing; however, based on the few sentences in the single photo he did share, the opening language appears similar between Van Ostenbridge and Fine’s letters as well.

“A signature can be a very powerful thing,” says Van Ostenbridge’s letter.

“Your signature is a powerful thing,” reads Fine’s.

The four-page letter sent with the Van Ostenbridge mailer touches on multiple topics and makes several assertions. Marc Masferrer, a District 3 resident, opinion writer, and the author of the Bradenton Journal Substack, is among the voters who received the letter. Masferrer called some of the letter’s content “half-truths” while analyzing its claims in his recent Substack column.

District 5 Commissioner Ray Turner is also seeking reelection this year. Turner was appointed to his seat by Governor DeSantis after his predecessor, Vanessa Baugh, resigned from the role before her term expired. Turner is also a client of Pedicini’s.

This week, Turner’s campaign also sent out a mailing. Though the piece included similar details and requested the recipient sign a pre-filled candidate petition and mail it back, the design of Turner’s mail piece differed from Fine’s and Van Ostenbridge’s.

Turner’s mailer came as a glossy tri-fold  made of heavier card stock. The exterior included, “Do Not Discard… Important Ballot Petions Enclosed.”

Like Van Ostenbridge’s letter, a short message included “from the desk of Turner” asked recipients to help Turner avoid paying the “ballot tax” by signing the enclosed petition.

The letter opens, “Dear Fellow Manatee County Patriot.”

And continues with the trademark national issues which a county commissioner has little-to-no control over, “...I stand with President Trump to reclaim our county, reclaim our southern border from lawlessness, reclaim our economy from inflation, reclaim our stature in the world, and it all starts here in Manatee County.”

The prepaid return envelope is addressed exactly as Van Ostenbridge’s and Fine’s were, to the address of SIMWINS, and a supposed “Candidate Petition Dept.” The prepaid permit number is also identical.

Click here to view the Turner Campaign mailer in full.

Based on a potentially wider local candidate field than in past election years, Manatee County voters should anticipate an increase in targeted electioneering materials. Campaigns and PACs are likely to spend tens of thousands of dollars on these materials this cycle, which can come as physical mailers to residential mailboxes, unsolicited bulk emails, and even mass text messages directly to voters' cell phones—see, I am a Professional Propagandist.

Some election materials intended to influence voters at the ballot box can be more challenging to spot because they lack a "paid-for-by" disclaimer. Astroturf-front groups utilize the internet and social media to push out material that appears like news stories but contains curated messaging or is intentionally deceptive in an attempt to benefit a candidate or political agenda. 

However the paid-for messaging arrives, voters' best defense against being misled or deceived is in scrutinizing the fine print, being informed about local issues impacting their communities, and taking the time to research candidates before heading to the ballot box.

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter and investigative journalist for The Bradenton Times covering local government news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


6 comments on this item

Only paid subscribers can comment
Please log in to comment by clicking here.

  • sandy

    KVO has over $200K in his coffers, but to save $5464.28 filing fee to be a candidate he wants to have the petition signed. He's also asking for a donation to help pay for the postage on the mail out and return postage for signed petition. I don't live in his district but the mailings might change if he decides to go for the at-large. To be honest, I usually just throw them away in the trash at the post office. There has to be some way to charge him with fraud or ethics for having the county address as the return address on the mail out envelope. The envelope to return the petition goes to Tampa. Can anyone tell me what happens to all money if he loses? Where does it go?

    Saturday, April 13 Report this

  • Debann



    Saturday, April 13 Report this

  • Cat L

    This is a many layered system of organized crime working within the existing rules of government. They'll go just as far as they think won't be checked upon, with seemingly endless unethical tactics.

    Sunday, April 14 Report this

  • san.gander

    I wonder what would happen if you didn't open the envelopes and marked them return to sender? What would the Supervisor of elections do with them?

    Sunday, April 14 Report this

  • David Daniels

    Pedicini's campaigns are indeed "based on half-truths or outright lies." I appreciate this report because there is no attempt to seek out and share the opinion of the .00001% of citizens that profit from the result and might have something positive to say about Pedicini's method of campaigning. Too many times do journalists dilute the truth through the fallacy of false equivalence in their reporting. The truth is that Pedicini is a liar that uses fear to exploit the worst traits in people. He sows division and we have a corrupt, dysfunctional County Administration to prove it. I am so hopeful that 2024 is the year that the pendulum swings back to the middle where integrity resides To do so, we the voters, must reject candidates like VanOStenbridge who are proud to wear the stain of Pedicini.

    Sunday, April 14 Report this

  • nellmcphillips

    I sent everything back in the prepaid envelope. They can pay the return postage. That’s my contribution's to KVOs campaign.

    Sunday, April 14 Report this