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Bullet train opposition leader faces charges

(The following story by Jane Musgrave appeared on the Palm Beach Post website on June 4.)

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- A suburban Boca Raton retiree who began a crusade against the state's proposed bullet train to keep it out of his neighborhood now faces a possible $16,000 fine for violating state campaign finance laws.

In documents released Thursday, the Florida Elections Commission said it has found reason to charge David Goodstein with 16 counts of violating state law.

Violations include improperly reimbursing himself $84.94 in telephone charges, $62 for toner and $24.40 for stamps when he served as chairman and treasurer of the political action committee DErail the Bullet Train, or DEBT. Goodstein, who is now only chairman of the PAC, is also accused of improperly accepting two contributions for $873 before the committee was properly formed.

"For a retired schoolteacher who has never been charged with anything, it's really embarrassing," Goodstein said. "It's a humiliating experience."

But, he said, since the investigation began last summer he knew that his life as a political activist could get nasty.

Lakeland millionaire C.C. "Doc" Dockery, who lodged the complaint against Goodstein, has made it clear he dislikes Goodstein's efforts to derail the multibillion-dollar train that was overwhelmingly endorsed by voters. Dockery spent $3 million of his own money to mount a successful petition drive in 2000 to get the issue on the ballot.

On Wednesday, Dockery filed suit in Tallahassee attacking the petition drive Goodstein is coordinating with the recent help of such political heavyweights as Gov. Jeb Bush, state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and state Sen. Ron Klein, D-Boca Raton.

"I have no personal animus toward him," Goodstein said of Dockery. "But he does play hardball."

While Dockery couldn't be reached for comment, Elections Commission officials said that the charges against Goodstein are serious.

"In the whole scheme of things, any violation of campaign finance laws is important," said Charles Finkel, general counsel for the commission. "Anything that makes the playing field unlevel could affect the outcome of an election so each one is important."

Goodstein said he is taking the charges -- that each carry a possible $1,000 fine -- seriously.

But he described his actions as mistakes based on ignorance of the law rather than an attempt to corrupt the political process.

For instance, the Ethics Commission faults him for accepting a contribution of more than the $100 limit. The $123 he deposited in the PAC's account was money left over from another PAC that was folded when the new committee was formed, he said.

As to improperly reimbursing himself for various expenses, he said he had been doing it for years and didn't realize it was improper.

"If they're right and I'm wrong, then it was a mistake," he said.

Friday, June 4, 2004

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