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Tuesday, Jul 29, 2014
Politics

Republicans ahead in fundraising race

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TAMPA ญญ- State Republicans appear to be building a mammoth war chest heading into 2014, when they'll be defending Gov. Rick Scott against a re-election challenge.

Florida Democrats, meantime, have shown only tepid fundraising so far this year, despite the election of a new party chairman, Allison Tant of Tallahassee, who campaigned for the party office partly on her ability to raise money.

In fundraising reports filed last week, Republicans showed $8.9 million raised in the first half of the year, while Democrats reported a little more than $2 million.

At the same time, Gov. Rick Scott is well into what promises to be an unprecedented fundraising effort for his independent political committee, Let's Get to Work.

The committee reported raising $8.6 million in the first half of the year, much of it in huge chunks of $100,000 or more from business interests with a stake in state government actions - sugar, utilities, private prison management, real estate development and tourism.

Since the beginning of 2012, Let's Get to Work has raised a total of $13.4 million.

It's not unusual for Republicans in Florida to out-fundraise Democrats, partly because their control over both houses of the state Legislature, the Cabinet and the governor's office allows them to exert influence on business and special interest donors.

However, the figures show a large increase for Republicans, and don't show improvement for Democrats, when compared to the same period in the last election cycle, the first half of 2009. That year, like this one, was the first year after a presidential election and the year before a Florida governor's race.

In the first half of 2009, Republicans raised $5.1 million, less than their 2013 total; Democrats raised slightly more during that time, $2.4 million.

Democratic Party spokesman Joshua Karp said the figures for 2009 and 2013 really aren't comparable because in 2009 several prominent Democrats were campaigning for statewide offices and raising money for the party as well as for their campaigns.

Alex Sink of Tampa, starting her race for governor, held a Cabinet seat as chief financial officer and was beginning her race for governor.

"It was a year of spirited campaigning by Democrats," Karp said. "This year we don't have those candidates working to fund raise into the party."

He said the quarterly figures show "a very dedicated chair who raised just shy of $1 million to support Democrats statewide."

Republicans didn't hide their glee at the numbers.

"We are approaching this election cycle with full knowledge that national Democrats will pour vast resources into attacking Rick Scott," state GOP chairman Lenny Curry said in a statement issued through a spokesman. "We're grateful to our donors, as well as our grassroots supporters, for the support they've given us."

Tant, who wasn't available for comment, beat Alan Clendenin of Tampa in a hotly contested race for state party chairman in January, after campaigning in part on her prowess in political fundraising: She was a major Barack Obama fundraiser credited with bringing more than $300,000 to his Florida campaigns.

Clendenin, who became party vice chairman in a unity effort after the election, declined to discuss the party's fundraising, referring questions to the party.

But Stacy Frank of Tampa, a prominent fundraiser for local and state Democrats, said the results show party's finances "will never be sustainable if it's dependent on one personality. We need to come up with a sustainable fundraising program. Republicans have a sustainable fundraising program - it's called the Florida Legislature."

Plantation lawyer Mitch Ceasar, chairman of the Democratic Party in Broward County, the state's biggest Democratic county, said he's not disappointed with Tant's performance.

"The key in fundraising is having enough to be competitive, and I have no fear that we won't raise enough to be competitive," he said, citing U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy's 2012 defeat of Republican Congress member Allen West, who vastly out-raised and outspent Murphy.

"Certainly in 2014 the eyes of the nation will be upon us with the governor's race."

Ceasar, who didn't take a public stance in the race between Clendenin and Tant, but voted for Tant, said, "She has delivered on her promise financially speaking. The Republicans' iron control over the Leg generates enormous amounts of money."

wmarch@tampatrib.com

813-259-7761

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