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Politics

The Fundraising Woes of Charlie Crist

February 4, 2014 - 6:00pm

Is Charlie Crist losing fundraising momentum? The former Republican governor made headlines when he raised $2.1 million in November. But, just two months later, his numbers tell a different tale.

In January, a political committee backing Crist raised only $375,000. Further analysis shows an even starker picture: two donors alone made up $200,000 of the total.

If it hadnt been for those two donations -- one from Monte Friedkin and another from the Ferraro personal injury firm the committee would have raised only $175,000.

Monte Friedkin, incidentally, is best known as a Florida Democratic political bankroller who hands out campaign checks as freely as he does advice on how to govern.

Crist launched his campaign in November, around the same time the new maximum contribution limits went into effect in Florida. Donors can now give $3,000 to statewide candidates up significantly from the previous $500 limit. Initially, Crist reaped the benefits of the higher contribution allowances. That month, he raised more than $430,000 from donors who gave the maximum contribution. But, that number plummeted in December, when the Crist camp received only $141,000 from max donors.

As a Republican candidate, Crist raked in the dough. But as a Democrat, his numbers so far dont stack up.

When asked in January if it was more difficult to raise money as a Democrat than as a Republican, Crist responded: So far, no. Its been wonderful.

But when he ran as a Republican for governor in 2005, he raised $3.9 million from more than 8,600 donors an average of more than $75,000 per day during the first two months of his campaign. In contrast, as a Democrat, Crist has raised less than $1.3 million from 5,900 donors, an average of only about $21,000 per day.

According to the Sun Sentinel, those close to Crist said he needed to make his first priority raising money to show he can run a credible challenge to Scott.

Crist went on to say that part of the reason hes been mostly out of the limelight since announcing his candidacy is because he needed to raise money to fend off Gov. Rick Scott.

For a goal thats Crists first priority, the quest to raise money isnt showing a return on investment.

A majority of Crists donors are law firms or trial lawyers, but not as many large businesses and companies have been quick to lend a financial hand to the former governor.

Scott, on the other hand, is proving to be a fundraising powerhouse. What Crist raises in a month, Scott can raise from one check. In December, Lets Get to Work, a political committee backing the governor, received a $490,000 contribution from a single donor.

Some observers believe Crists declining numbers are part and parcel of his campaigns internal instability. His campaign team has had a series of operatives bail out, beginning in December when former campaign manager Bill Hyers, currently a hot Democratic commodity, called it quits. In January, Michael Hoffman, who was brought on as the campaigns deputy finance director, also split from the campaign.

Omar Khan -- who was described by the Tampa Bay Times as not an A-list campaign manager that one might expect for a marquee race like Florida's gubernatorial campaign -- is set to replace Hyers this month.

Florida Republicans, however, believe Crists declining fundraising numbers point to distrust from members of his own party over his flip-flopping politics.

Democrats dont trust him, said Susan Hepworth of the Republican Party of Florida. They dont want to donate to a guy who they dont have any clue where he stands on issues.

Should the trend continue for Crist, dwindling fundraising reports could spell trouble. Democrat Nan Rich, whose once invisible campaign has started gaining traction, has hastened her attacks on Crists record and could force him to spend money explaining his newfound progressive views to primary voters.

With only a limited amount of trial lawyers left to pool contributions from, Crist will need to find a way to remain competitive if he makes it to the general election to face Scott and his campaign war chest.


Reach Tampa-based reporter Allison Nielsen at Allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter at @AllisonNielsen.

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