Party Money Big, But Rick Scott's Personal Cash Makes Huge Difference
Around the State
Spurred by a neck-and-neck race that has them smelling the governor’s office, Democrats had their best two-month fund-raising period ever, making the electoral money race with the Florida Republican Party mirror the contest between Rick Scott and Alex Sink: pretty much tied.
The Florida Democratic and Republican parties both raised just under $31.6 million in the two months since the primary election.
It’s hardly a tossup, however, in terms of what will be spent overall because of Scott’s willingness to dip into his own incredible personal wealth. Scott reported late Friday night that he dumped another $11.6 million into his campaign, bringing the total amount he’s put into the race to an astounding $73 million, boosting the governor’s race to the most expensive ever in the state.
Sink finished the fund-raising part of the campaign having raised about $11.2 million in cash and got about $6 million in in-kind contributions, not counting the money spent on her campaign by the party.
As pundits talk of a big year for the GOP and an expected landslide win for Republicans in the national congressional race this Tuesday, Democrats in Florida have been encouraged by Sink’s strong showing in polls – she has been ahead slightly in some, trailing slightly in others – while the Florida GOP all year has faced difficulties from a leadership and financial scandal that resulted in the criminal indictment of its former chairman earlier this year.
The Florida Republican Party’s $31.6 million for the general election campaign brings its total contributions for the 2010 election cycle to just about $60 million, according to finance reports filed Friday night. Despite its highly-publicized internal troubles, the RPOF still bested Democrats by more than $10 million during the entire two-year period.
Thanks to the Democrats’ big cash grab during the last two months -- besting by $11 million its previous best reporting period, which came during the party’s giddy runup to the 2008 election of President Barack Obama – the Democrats finish the two-year cycle having collected just under $49 million.
Republican Party officials have acknowledged that the bad press over the excessive spending on the watch of indicted former Chairman Jim Greer and the defection from the party of one of its big fund-raising draws, Gov. Charlie Crist, have hurt their money-raising cause this year.
But the party needed less for this gubernatorial election – because of Scott’s $70-plus million from his own pocket. Scott spent more than the Democratic Party on the election.
Still, Republicans had plenty of enthusiastic donors.
Underscoring the importance of which party commands the governor's office heading into 2012 legislative and congressional redistricting, the Republican Governors Association was the single biggest contributor to the state GOP -- pumping $6.4 million into Florida between Aug. 20 and midnight Thursday, the state's fund-raising deadline for next week's election.
The Democratic Governors Assocation is also a major contributor to Florida Democrats. The DGA pumped money into Sink’s campaign, and was a major donor to the party through an intermediary, a Tallahassee Democratic PAC called MARK Pac that took in $1 million from the DGA this month and then was one of the largest contributors to the state Democratic Party.
Other big givers to the Republican Party included U.S. Sugar Corp., which gave $1.6 million to the state party, despite Scott's condemnation of Florida's $197 million buyout of company land on the edge of the Everglades. U.S. Sugar completed the sale of 27,000 acres to the South Florida Water Management District, which intends to use the land to help restore the Everglades -- although Scott has said the purchase was mainly to benefit the company. Scott's vanquished primary rival, Bill McCollum, supported the deal -- which the nominee said made him "bought and paid for" by U.S. Sugar.
Indeed, amid scores of contributions from health-care companies, utilities, Realtors, developers, and pari-mutuel companies, some of the GOP’s biggest donors were those who had fought hard against Scott in the governor's primary race. Insurer Blue Cross/Blue Shield, gave $475,000 in homestretch cash to the state GOP after siding heavily with McCollum. Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company headed by a pair of doctors, Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass, steered $605,000 to the party after also helping finance some of the primary's fiercest attacks on McCollum.
The doctors, who played a central role in fighting legislation supported by Sink that would have reduced the cost of prescription drugs in workers' compensation cases -- a measure vetoed by Crist -- donated $1 million through companies they led to political spending committees controlled by incoming legislative leaders Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. The money was used to air TV ads during the primary against Scott.
Another organization which flipped its support was the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which had backed McCollum but put $115,000 into the state party through its Florida Jobs Political Action Committee. Scott has made peace with the chamber -- and today is scheduled to attend a Winter Park airing of the film "Waiting for Superman," which the state and national chambers have been promoting as part of a push to revamp the public school system and diminish the strength of teachers' unions.
Sink is attending a statewide conference today with the union, the Florida Education Association, where she is expected to echo her resistence to ending teacher tenure, which Scott supports.
And as expected, teachers’ unions have been one of the major bases of support for Sink and the Democrats. The aforementioned MARK Pac that has pumped so much money into the state party counts the National Education Association among its major donors, having received a half-million dollars from the NEA just this week.
And the Florida Education Association is among the biggest donors directly to the party, giving about $2.8 million just during the last two months.
Other unions are big names on the Democrats’ list. The party’s big donors also include AFSCME, which represents state and local government workers, the Service Employees International Union Healthcare, which represents nurses and nursing assistants, including the many frontline nursing-home workers. Teamsters locals and the Police Benevolent Assocation also made several major donations to the Democratic Party during the period.
But Sink and other Democrats will also benefit from some corporate largesse. One of the major contributors to MARK Pac and a contributor directly to the Democratic Party is Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest electric utility.
As it always is, the list of Democratic donors is also heavily made up of trial lawyers, who are expecting a major fight in the coming year over lawsuit rules. Incoming Republican legislative leaders have made it clear they want to again pursue some of the major tort reform fights of the last decade, particularly in health care.
Both of the state parties spent more than $35 million each this fall, mainly paying for the TV ads and staff for Scott and Sink, as well as pitching in for other candidates.
Lawmakers' 527 committees also ponied up big, particularly for Republicans. Cannon's Florida Liberty Fund gave $300,00 to the party this fall; Senate President Jeff Atwater, now the Republican nominee for chief financial officer, gave $438,000 to the party this month from his Preserve the American Dream Committee; and another, the Alliance for a Strong Economy, run by a half-dozen senators, including Haridopolos, gave $310,000.
Other big GOP contributors included the Seminole Tribe, which gave $550,000 to the party which controls the Florida Legislature -- which last spring ended a three-year standoff by approving a lucrative gambling compact with the tribe. The tribe also gave at least $75,000 to the Democratic Party.
Joe Anderson, the retired president of paving giant Anderson-Columbia Corp., individually gave $505,000 to the Florida GOP, while the company donated another $125,000.
Management of The Villages, the sprawling Central Florida retirement community that has been ground zero for a handful of Republican Party rallies, including those by Scott and former vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin, also has contributed $300,000 to the party this fall, records show.
Some contributions to the state GOP may have been made defensively against the expected tort reform proposals. With Scott already unveiling a proposed legislative package that makes it harder for doctors, car manufacturers and insurers to be sued, the state's trial lawyer-backed Florida Justice PAC gave $10,000 to Republicans, while major law firms, Tampa-based Wilkes & McHugh, and Orlando-centered Morgan & Morgan each gave $100,000 to the Florida Republican Party.
The Florida Justice PAC, as expected, was also a major donor to the Democratic Party, having given about $150,000 to the party just during the last two months.
The state parties were about even in fund-raising during the previous period leading up to the primary, as well, with the Republican Party of Florida having raised $7.72 million from April 1 to Aug. 19 and Democrats raising $7.69 million during the same time period.