Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos is looking like the latest top Florida lawmaker putting his money behind fellow Republican Bill McCollum in his primary fight with multimillionaire Rick Scott.
Haridopolos Freedom First Committee recently took in $500,000 from three Broward County companies, but quickly transfered most of the cash to another political committee whose leaders are supporting McCollum in the Republican primary for governor.
Ive got no comment on it, said Alachua County Republican Chairman Stafford Jones, who is treasurer of the Citizens Speaking Out Committee, which was sent $350,000 Monday by the senators political spending organization.
Jones, a McCollum supporter, also is a leader of the Florida First Initiative, a Tallahassee-based political organization which two weeks ago ran a $600,000 weeklong statewide television spot accusing Scott of profiting from the largest Medicare fraud in American history.
House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, steered $150,000 from a political committee he raises money for into the Florida First effort. The TV spot was clearly designed to help McCollum, who is trailing in polls to Scott, the Naples businessman who has financed a saturating, statewide TV campaign with $15 million of his own money.
Along with the political committees, Jones runs a Gainesville media company called War Room Logistics, which had been associated with a Dont Bank on Sink Web site posted last year to blister presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sinks record.
But while the McCollum focus then was on Sink, supporters now have been forced to turn their attention to Scott in the Aug. 24 primary.
The money exchange also shows the heightened role 527 committees are playing in the governors race. Named after the section of the IRS code which governs them, 527s can receive and distribute unlimited amounts of cash to influence an election making them a powerful campaign weapon.
Its no surprise there are any number of groups or individuals who are concerned about Rick Scotts record of fraud and hypocrisy and are interested in helping educate Florida voters, said Kristy Campbell, a McCollum spokesman.
Scott also plans to raise money for a 527 dubbed the Lets Get To Work Committee. The account will allow additional spending on Scotts behalf without threatening the states public-finance limit of $24.9 million. If the Scott campaign topped that ceiling, McCollum would be rewarded dollar-for-dollar with taxpayer cash.
Meanwhile, the McCollum campaign launched a new ad Wednesday critical of Scott, who reported his net worth last week as $218.6 million. The TV spot features McCollum ripping his opponent for putting profit over principle.
McCollum attacks Scott in the ad for profiting from abortions while he was CEO of the Columbia/HCA health care chain and investing in another company the attorney general said allowed illegal aliens to send money home to their families.
The decision by Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, to push cash toward McCollum allies seems to follow the pattern set by Cannon, who took $150,000 from his Liberty Fund and gave it to the Florida First Initiative just three days before the anti-Scott ad aired.
After Cannons check went out, the Liberty Fund was replenished two days later with a $100,000 contribution from the Florida Retail Federation Political Action Committee.
This time around, the committees Cannon and Haridopolos steer were each on the receiving end of $500,000 in contributions last week from three South Florida companies led by a pair of doctors, Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass.
Haridopolos has sent most of the new money into the Citizens Speaking Out Committee. The contributions from the doctors companies have not been distributed from Cannons committee, according to reports last updated Monday.
Zimmerman, an orthopedist, played a central role in fighting against legislation supported by Sink, the Democratic front-runner. The wide-ranging measure (HB 5603) included provisions aimed at reducing the rising cost of prescription drugs in the states workers compensation program.
But Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the legislation, acknowledging concerns that it could disrupt patient care.
The legislation, opposed by the Florida Medical Association and Florida Orthopedic Society, would have threatened companies held by Zimmerman and Glass, founders of Automated Healthcare Solutions, which provides distribution and billing for doctors providing medication to patients in workers compensation cases.
Zimmerman, the CEO of Automated Healthcare, says in a statement on the company s Web site that its services are designed to enhance revenue production by allowing physicians to retain profits.
Following Crists veto, Sink said she was very disappointed that Gov. Crist chose to favor special interests instead of Florida taxpayers.
Zimmerman and other company officials did not immediately return phone calls and e-mail from the News Service of Florida.
Jen Baker, a Scott spokeswoman, said Wednesday that it was not surprising that Republican legislative leaders were rallying behind McCollum, who appeared to be the GOP consensus candidate before Scotts entry into the race.
The party establishment is coming to help McCollum, and this latest action appears to track with that, Baker said. But this kind of cronyism is what Floridians are sick of. People are rejecting that.