Few political figures have seen the longevity that Guetzloe has in Central Florida & around Florida in the past 30 years. Even a prison sentence leading up to election 2014 didn’t slow him down.
By Jacob Engels
You either love him…or you hate him – but Doug Guetzloe has remained a fixture in Florida politics for the past three decades, through numerous court battles and a stay at “Club Fed.”
Starting as FSU Student Body President with Governor Charlie Crist as his VP – Guetzloe began his politicking in the late 70’s. Following his graduation, he served in high level positions with the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association and the Florida Medical Association.
His real power however, and the source of his greatest accomplishments – was the founding of his Ax The Tax political committee in the early 80’s. It was from this bully pulpit that Guetzloe began his crusade against tax referendums and tax increasing politicians.
Guetzloe claims that Ax The Tax has torpedoed 17 hallmark tax increases since 1982, stopping over $50,000,000,000 in increases that would have been passed on to citizens. They’ve fought against public money going towards sports stadiums and light rail – often being outspent almost 37 to 1. Not many people can boast that many victories when always being outspent, money is the mother’s milk of politics after-all.
His radio program, on his own radio network is in hiatus currently – but boasted an average of 12,000 to 50,000 listeners a day for over a decade. He was even invited to host the show at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in 2011 during Reagan’s Centennial Birthday Celebration. Ronald Reagan was an avid supporter of Guetzloe’s Ax The Tax.
Ronald Reagan holding a gift from Guetzloe.
But slashing taxes and his constant involvement in hot political contests around the state that have brought him hefty consulting fees and respect amongst the anti-tax crowd, have also handed Guetzloe several high profile indictments and court battles.
In 2006, two years after Guetzloe founded the Florida Taxpayers Union – an offshoot of the National Taxpayers Union and boasts over 140,000 members statewide, he faced his first court battle over political mailers sent out by Ax The Tax. He was charged with 14 misdemeanors for distributing a political mailer without identifying the sender. All but one of the charges were dropped by the 5th District Court of Appeals and eventually the law Guetzloe was charged under was thrown out by a Federal judge in 2009 who declared the law an unconstitutional infringement on political free speech. However, Guetzloe ended up serving 60-days on the remaining charge after the appeals process reached a dead end. He was allowed to serve in a work-release program that allowed him to leave for work during the day and check back into the county run facility at night. Guetzloe to this day maintains he was the only person in the country put in jail over missing a seven word disclaimer on a political mailer.
Shortly after that, Guetzloe was charged with failure to file two federal tax returns – during the 2005 & 2006 reporting periods. Although the IRS testified in court that Guetzloe didn’t owe any taxes, the failure to file the tax returns resulted in his conviction of two misdemeanor charges. It was later learned that the IRS had targeted anti-tax conservatives and tea party leaders throughout the country during this same time period. It was never disclosed in court how the IRS decided to go after Guetzloe for a seemingly innocuous violation.
Guetzloe and anti-tax advocates holding a press conference outside the Florida Senate Chamber.
Eventually, Guetzloe was found guilty by the jury and sentenced to 15 months in the federal prison system – starting in late October 2012. Guetzloe ended up serving only about a year. With the better part of the new decade tied up in costly court battles and prison terms, Guetzloe could have decided to focus his efforts on his multimedia businesses or consulting firm – but he wanted back in.
One of his first notable forays into election 2014 was the race to replace Orlando City Commission District 5 Commissioner Daisy Lynum – who had served nearly 15 years before resigning right before the filing deadline, allowing her son Juan Lynum to jump in at the last minute. Guetzloe was an early and avid supporter of the challenger – Regina Hill. Miss Hill, who had a lengthy arrest record, had turned a new leaf in her life and had been working to better the community as a registered nurse.
Hill ran a hardline campaign against the status quo, and pushed voters to ask themselves if the Lynum family actually had helped the poverty stricken District 5 – or if they were more concerned about profiting from the commission seat. Sources told the East Orlando Post that Guetzloe spent over $3,000 of his own money on independent expenditures to help prop up Hills campaign – utilizing mailers & robo-calls. Guetzloe confirmed those numbers and said that in a race where less than 4,000 votes were cast on election day, it helped to get out the vote for Hill.
Hill raised just over $12,000, but waged a 15 month long “boots on the ground” effort where she spent more time in the community than any other candidate.
Guetzloe also went after first term District 47 Democratic State Representative Linda Stewart early and often – starting with the infamous “Bye, Bye, Linda” bumper stickers that quickly spread among conservative faithful. “We printed & distributed over 500. Residents of District 47 saw them quite often and we would regularly get calls from people trying to figure out how they could get them,” said Guetzloe.
Guetzloe’s infamous Anti-Stewart bumper sticker.
When Republican Mike Miller, who heads Marketing for Rollins College jumped into the race – the Ax The Tax founder quickly embraced his campaign over train-wreck Mo Pearson. Miller would go on to crush Pearson in the primary by almost 70%. Several local politicos told me they suspect Guetzloe of being behind several mailers and robo-calls that targeted a scandal plagued Pearson – an inexperienced first time candidate.
A mailer from the Florida Taxpayers Union was sent to all Democratic households in District 47 hitting Stewart on a drug raid carried out by the DEA at a rental property that Stewart owns. The lawmaker gave conflicting reports about her knowledge of what was occurring on the property, and it was later revealed that her daughter was an on and of again resident. The mailer, which took headlines about the bust from the Sentinel and other local news organizations were featured in the mailer along with former law enforcement officer & Democratic candidate Mike Greene.
“A survey we conducted on the Friday before election day showed Miller down by 2. Our piece dropped the next day on Saturday and we did robo-calls to all those households as well. Miller won by 4 points on election day,” explained Guetzloe. Belle Isle City Commissioner Lydia Pisano said Guetzloe had a huge impact on Miller’s defeat of the incumbent Democrat.
“Doug pretty much took the fight directly to Stewart right off the bat,” said Pisano whose district includes State House District 47.
Not all Guetzloe’s victories were specific to the Orlando-Orange County area either. He took on incumbent commissioners in Osecola County as well – calling them out for being pro-tax & pro-sunrail Republicans. Both were barraged by several rounds of mailers that prompted the Osecola GOP to pass a resolution condemning Doug Guetzloe & Ax The Tax. Both commissioners lost in close votes.
“They are Republicans in-name-only. I have no qualms holding tax & spend Republicans accountable,” reasoned Guetzloe when asked why he would attack GOP Commissioners.
More victories for Ax The Tax and Guetzloe occurred in Pinellas and Polk Counties – where he again spent his own money to oppose tax increases in those areas. Mr. Guetzloe reportedly spent over $40,000 to defeat the measures. But like most other political consultants and operatives – the Ax The Tax “Kingpin” was not without a loss on election day.
He did several mailings for the Yes on C partisan ballot measure in Orange County – putting him head to head with the Orange County GOP and some of the same development & business interests that have partnered with Guetzloe in the past.
“The GOP has been for partisan elections for years. Ax The Tax has been consistent in supporting partisan elections for decades. Since Orange GOP Chairman Lew Oliver did robocalls and mailers denouncing me and Ax The Tax, we must have had an impact.”
You’d be hard pressed to find a political consultant who just spent a year in the federal pen who has had as much success as Guetzloe did this past election cycle. He could have easily decided to opt out of this election cycle. But like many of us who caught the political bug at an early age, he just can’t stay away.
“Ax the Tax has such a great reputation among voters that it van make a huge difference especially in close races and Doug is Ax the Tax. He personifies the movement,” explained Belle Isle City Commissioner Lydia Pisano.
Loathe or admire, I thought it was about time Guetzloe was given credit where credit was due. With his batting average this cycle, it’s fair to assume Guetzloe’s bank account will only be getting larger in 2015. AX THE TAX!
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at email@example.com