Columns

With Dozens of King Ranch-Style Fundraisers, Why Pick on Just One?

By: Nancy Smith | Posted: August 6, 2014 3:55 AM
Campaign finance

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.

There.

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.

Why does the Times overdose like a back-alley crackhead on this particular one? Count 'em -- you'll find 79 paragraphs in Michael Van Sickler and Craig Pittman's main story alone.

I Beg to Differ

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 nsmith@sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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Comments (19)

Frank
8:10PM AUG 6TH 2014
But mom, everybody else is doing it, so why can't I . . . . .

I think Carl Hiaasen put it well today ending his observations with . . . . . "They've been bought and paid for, just like Rick Scott said four years ago. Now he's one of them. His staff won't say why he changed his mind about taking Big Sugar's money. The bathroom wall would be a fitting place (for his King Ranch hunting trophy heads), hanging right over the toilet where he flushed his integrity." . . . . . .

To try and spin this otherwise, as SSN once again attempts to do with the inexcusable action of their idol Rick Scott, is, well, just . . . .

Pathetic . . . . .
Rebecca Bruner
3:07PM AUG 6TH 2014
As I'm reading all the places you mentioned above who too had fundraisers - well I'm wondering how many of us regular folks have ever stepped on that king ranch property in Texas?
Sounds pretty private to me. Actually real small and private. Tiny tiny small and private.
Michael
2:05PM AUG 6TH 2014
Nancy Smith, always can see the mote in someone else's eye but never the beam in her or any Republican's eye.
Thank You Craig Pittman and the Tampa Bay Times.
Another reason to not keep any Republican in State or Federal office in Florida if at all possible.
Jeff
1:15PM AUG 6TH 2014
As a registered Democrat, I too am disappointed in the TBT coverage. I'm sure that their efforts are targeted trying to tilt voters into Charlie Crist's corner in November. If they want to cover these things, give the complete picture or at least a balanced sample of abuses. And there are abuses galore. As far as the comment about Cuba being deprived of revenue because they can't sell sugar to the US, last I checked the Cuban sugar industry can hardly produce enough sugar for their own consumption. Their industry is decimated by old, unmaintained equipment, poor farming techniques, and their Socialist government.
Bill
12:34PM AUG 6TH 2014
Nancy, as usual you are a pathetic apologist for the continued corruption that exists in the current Governor's office.
C Breeze
4:42PM AUG 7TH 2014
Don't listen to him Nancy,...You are a true JOURNALIST of the first order, keep spewing truth & fact and maybe some of these "kool-Ade" drinkers will soak up some "education" by osmosis or even accidentally...
John Browning
11:52AM AUG 6TH 2014
Nancy, as usual you are right on target. And it is the law that is the problem. The lobbyist gift ban law passed by then idiot Senate President Tom Lee has been an abysmal failure, only making the large firm lobbyists and companies more powerful and eliminating the small lobbying firm and lobbyist from having any real access or influence on legislators. The money spent by big time lobbyists and companies they represent in the legislative process is criminal!!
Repubtallygirl
9:44AM AUG 6TH 2014
The Tampa Bay Times shows itself yet again to be a liberal rag not even worth being mullet wrap.
Frank
7:46PM AUG 6TH 2014
Yes, yes, you must be right . . . . no conservative publication would EVER create such articles . . . . like say Florida Today, Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Naples News-Press, Miami Herald, Ocala Star-Banner, Bradenton Herald, Lakeland Ledger, Leigh Acres News Star, or Florida Trend, correct . . .

Empty-headed far right GOP denial . . . . continued spin politics of the "Big Lie" and absolutely . . . .

Pathetic . . .
Dean
9:38AM AUG 6TH 2014
Maybe it is time to take "money" out of politics? Put salaries and benefits back in line with other state employees, with the same benefits at the same cost. Cap the amount a politician can spend on a campaign. Get rid of PACs and other outside influence, including lobbyists. Money is not speech, although it could be considered a pathway to speech. In the end, money is corruption.
Craig Pittman
9:32AM AUG 6TH 2014
We wrote about the King Ranch hunting trips because 1) unlike the other RPOF fundraisers, it was kept secret -- not mentioned by name in any documents and nobody wanted to talk about it -- and 2) it appears not to be a fundraiser at all, but rather a way for the sugar industry to buy access to Florida's top decision-makers. We said all that in the story -- and also compared the King Ranch trip to the other fundraisers, which were 1) not kept secret and 2) appear to have been actual fundraisers. Hope that clears up any confusion you might have.
Christopher
8:08AM AUG 7TH 2014
Craig....it would be safe to say that most readers (myself included) got the point of the TBT article. If anything this SSN piece reinforces and supports what TBT wrote. Of course the party trolls will spin it up to be another (fill in the blank) conspiracy to hurt or attack some particular politician gang.
Carl F. Lampitt
1:06PM AUG 6TH 2014
Mr. Pittman, even as a Democrat I am quite honestly appalled at your series's overkill. The straw that broke the camel's back was hearing you, a writer of the NEWS story, go on the radio and editorialize about it. Journalism ethics and fair practice certainly have changed since I was in the business. It seems to me, sir, that you are trying to win an election for your party rather than reporting the news fairly. It's a regular occurrence in the Times now. Editors there used to keep closer watch of such things. The Times is still my paper, but I am getting tired of reading it (and now with the Herald doing the same) while pushing a finger down my throat.
Craig Pittman
4:34PM AUG 7TH 2014
Dear Mr. Lampit. Not sure what you mean by editorialize. All I said was what was in the story -- namely that politicians are taking secret trips with a polluting industry and then passing legislation that benefits the industry at the taxpayers' expense. As for trying to tilt an election, you must bear in mind that we checked both Democratic legislators and Republican ones, and even ran Charlie Crist's name through Texas hunting license records. Only GOP office holders were taking these trips, and we reported that -- just as we reported that Democrats took them in the late 1980s, when they were in power.
Roberter
9:44PM AUG 7TH 2014
There is an obvious agenda to the story. Get real. We arent stupid.
Frank
12:21PM AUG 11TH 2014
No, not stupid, just seeking rightwing ideological purity . . . . through a blatant denial of actual journalism, based on actual facts . . . .

Pathetic . . . .
Tom Bryson
8:20AM AUG 6TH 2014
I would never pretend to speak for the Tampa Bay Times.

Having said that, I could speculate that in addition to it being the political season, the TBT attention might have something to do with sugar being the poster child for everything wrong with government subsidies. Cheap sugar does everything a good capitalist would want, from selling food products to denying Communist Cuba revenue. However, the externalities associated with sugar are enormous; obesity, diabetes and a water supply at risk just to name a few.

If you want to make something sell, put a little sugar on it and what could be sweeter than hunting on the King Ranch.

Establishing an equivalency between big sugar and the other examples on your list is dishonest.
PS
8:04AM AUG 6TH 2014
Believe I wrote the same thing ten days ago. Good job, Nancy.
C Breeze
6:47AM AUG 6TH 2014
You're doing a fine job Nancy; "Don't stop believing..." ! ! !

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