With Dozens of King Ranch-Style Fundraisers, Why Pick on Just One?
Around the State
Let me make it clear: Offering hunting jaunts to King Ranch in Texas was a bad idea on U.S. Sugar's part, I don't condone it and I dearly wish elected officials would think about the perceptions they create when they do anything they can't or won't share with the public.
Having said that, I have a question or two for the Tampa Bay Times, which last week devoted a substantial chunk of its precious front page -– and more than a few reporter man-hours -– to “uncover” a story that is one of literally dozens, perhaps even hundreds of in-kind political fundraisers sponsored by Florida companies at glitzy or pricey destinations.
As Heartland Institute fellow James Taylor, Florida face of mediatrackers.org, put it in his take on the Times' mountainous coverage, "... The article may be single-handedly responsible for rampant deforestation throughout the state."
The answer to the overdose question is that the King Ranch fits the Times' politics.
My real problem with the coverage is its out-of-whack proportion.
You and I may wish they weren't, but these in-kind "gift" fundraisers are entirely legal if elected officials and parties follow the rules. And by all accounts on this one, they did. Personally, I wish officeholders regardless of party would stay home and take care of business. But fundraisers that engage their base and promise unrivaled entertainment are how big donors are attracted and how money is raised in 21st century politics.
It's just that the Times piles on the outrage over a fundraising event for one political party sponsored by one Florida company that happens to involve one very popular major attraction -- hunting.
By this newspaper project's sheer volume, you would think some discovery had been unearthed, some "secret" Florida-to-Texas ritual. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Have a look at the two lists at the end of this commentary -- one for each party -- of some of the Florida companies and the money spent sponsoring similar events. Any one of these line items could have produced the same "expose." The only difference is, the Times didn't write about them.
Was this the first the Times heard of fundraising events like this – hosted both inside and outside of Florida? I doubt it. Surely the Times knows all it has to do is check the public filings of direct and in-kind contributions made to both the Republican and Democratic state parties and there they all are -- details missing, but the idea is clear. Each event presents an opportunity for a donor to access candidates. Both parties host such fundraisers at major sporting events. They host them at concerts and cultural events. They host them at theme parks. They host them in historical locations.
Why don't we read about each and every trip, every indulgence for dollars -- find out who was there and who benefited? Why don't they each get the King Ranch treatment? I'll tell you why. It's because electeds clam up about their fundraising activities. So do the parties and the event hosts. Finding out what went on is like pulling teeth. My guess is, someone dumped the King Ranch -- at least the story's bare bones -- in the Times' lap.
What we do know is that the Republican Party of Florida is loving New York right now. It's hosting September fundraisers at the U.S. Open tennis tournament in Flushing Meadows, then taking in a Red Sox-Yankees game in the Bronx. State Democrats the same -- they're throwing fundraisers at Yankees' games, too. These events are the norm, not the exception. But by piling on verbiage, the Times makes the King Ranch appear somehow special.
Here's a look at some of the different types of in-kinds that both parties accept or the types of fundraisers they hold:
-- Disney comps the parties their rooms, tickets, fireworks displays, etc.
-- Universal Studios has shut down the park at night and then reopened for the Democrats and their guests (no long lines there).
-- There are golf outings at Rosen Shingle Creek in Orlando.
-- One of the GOP fundraisers during a previous election cycle -- from which even Charlie Crist benefited -- was held in Las Vegas.
-- Ditto another such spectacular fundraising setting -- this one at the Kentucky Derby.
-- JM Family Enterprises has hosted fundraisers on its yacht, the Gallant Lady.
-- Legislators have "done" fundraisers on fishing trips out of Fort Lauderdale and gambling cruises to nowhere off Florida's coast.
-- The Villages hosts a major fundraiser and provides in-kind support.
-- International Speedway Corp. provides in-kind contributions for fundraisers at NASCAR events, including the Daytona 500.
-- There have been fundraisers held in conjunction with other Yankees' games, New York theater tours, the FSU championship game, NFL games, other Major League Baseball games and concerts.
-- There was even a fundraiser in Napa Valley,. Calif.
I think you're getting the picture. Any one of these events would have produced the same perception as the King Ranch stories did -- had the authors chosen to investigate to the same extent. Again, check out the lists at the end of this article.
I guess I'm just failing to see what the point is of singling out and denigrating one fundraising event amid a sea of serpents just like it -- when the only difference is the names. The Times should pick its quarrel with the law that allows it (see the pertinent statutes below).
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at 228-282-2423.