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Politics

Crist backers praise $3 million raised in first month

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Published:   |   Updated: December 11, 2013 at 05:17 AM

Charlie Crist raised $3 million in his first month as a candidate for governor, a total that would be considered remarkable if Gov. Rick Scott had not piled nearly $6 million into his independent political committee during the same month.

Crist’s backers say his fundraising total is unprecedented for a Democrat or for a challenger to a sitting Florida governor and should answer questions about whether Crist can raise money as a Democrat as effectively as when he was a Republican.

Meanwhile, on the same day that Crist filed his campaign finance report, Scott filed papers with the state Division of Elections officially forming his re-election campaign.

Scott has been actively fundraising for months for his re-election, but not through a formal campaign committee. Instead, he’s been raising money for his independent committee, Let’s Get to Work.

Details from the contributions records make it appear Scott pulled out all the stops to show a big fundraising total for the month of November, a total sure to get attention because of Crist’s entry into the race and first campaign finance report.

But a Republican Party of Florida spokeswoman said it was “purely coincidental” that Scott filed his re-election papers on the same day Crist’s first fundraising total was due, and showed a big contribution total for November.

“What Charlie decides to do doesn’t affect our plans,” said spokeswoman Susan Hepworth.

Crist’s $3 million total is for both his own independent committee, Charlie Crist For Florida, which raised $2.2 million, and his campaign committee, which reported raising about $800,000 in the same period.

Both independent committees have been reporting their contributions on their web sites, but Crist’s fundraising for his campaign wasn’t available until the filing deadline Tuesday.

“I’m humbled to announce that ... we raised about 3 million dollars in just over three weeks,” Crist said in an email to supporters. “While Rick Scott shakes down a few gigantic special interests, I will continue to be inspired by you, the people.”

Crist “seems to be setting records for a Democrat running for governor,” said Fort Lauderdale lawyer Mitchell Berger, a veteran Democratic political fundraiser and Crist backer. “His numbers for this month are better than we used to do in a quarter” in previous races for governor.

The money for Crist’s independent campaign committee was heavily weighted with contributions from lawyers and law firms.

However, Berger noted, it didn’t include a contribution from Crist’s employer John Morgan, prominent Orlando trial lawyer of the Morgan & Morgan law firm. Morgan, one of Crist’s staunchest supporters, who’s known for large political and charitable contributions, hasn’t yet contributed to Charlie Crist for Florida or held a fundraiser but is widely expected to make a large contribution.

Scott’s independent committee, Let’s Get to Work, is the vehicle he used for most of the roughly $74 million of his personal fortune he spent during his 2010 campaign.

Its November fundraising total of about $5.9 million is more than Let’s Get to Work has ever previously reported during even a three-month finance reporting period, except for its first report during Scott’s 2010 campaign, which showed $8 million coming from Scott’s wife’s trust fund.

Scott’s 2010 spending eclipsed all previous Florida governor’s races, but Scott and his political allies have said he may outdo it in the coming year, spending up to $100 million.

Scott’s November fundraising total is increased by heavy contributions from industries Crist has battled in the past – big sugar and utilities – and by a contribution of $1 million from Miguel Fernandez, a Miami health insurance magnate.

Scott, an ardent opponent of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, or “Obamacare,” became wealthy as head of a chain of hospitals. Fernandez couldn’t be reached for comment on his contribution.

Among Scott contributors:

* Florida Crystals, $500,000. The company had already given $150,000 earlier in the year, along with U.S. Sugar, which had given $300,000.

* St. Petersburg developer Bill Edwards, $500,000.

* The Florida Chamber of Commerce, $350,000

* Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy, $250,000 each. Crist has battled utilities over rates for much of his political career.

* The Geo Group, a private prison firm, and its inmate health care affiliate, $150,000.

* Lawrence DeGeorge, Jupiter businessman, $500,000.

In addition, Scott reported dozens of contributions of $10,000 to $50,000.

Scott’s committee has raised $19.8 million so far this year.

Crist’s committee bulked up its total with contributions including the following:

* $345,000 from Floridians for Fairness, a Tampa-based political action committee heavily funded by law firms and health care companies.

* $250,000 from the Grossman Roth law firm of Coral Gables.

* $100,000 from Coral Gables lawyer William Haggard.

* $100,000 from Coral Gables investor Bruce Berkowitz.

wmarch@tampatrib.com

813-259-7761

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