DADE CITY — State Sen. Wilton Simpson and outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford have nearly $1 million at their disposal to help get conservative Republicans elected in Florida, and some of that money is making its way to local candidates on all levels.
The Republican Party of Florida donated $425,000 to Weatherford’s new Committee for a Stronger Florida, which is being run by the speaker’s former deputy chief of staff. So far, the committee has spent about $13,000, including $1,000 contributions to Gov. Rick Scott and each Cabinet member.
Former State Rep. Shawn Harrison, running to regain his old seat, and Hillsborough Commission candidate Rick Cochran also collected $1,000.
But so far Simpson is making the real impact this election cycle. The Trilby Republican was reelected without opposition to his Senate seat, which covers part of Pasco and all of Hernando and Sumter counties. He founded Jobs for Florida in 2012 and this year has reported more than $442,000 in donations. Some of the largest donors include Disney ($20,000), U.S. Sugar ($25,000) and the casino/gaming industry ($25,000). The committee has already reported spending $249,410 this year, including $1,000 donations to Cochran, Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon; Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg and state House hopeful Danny Burgess, R-Zephyrhills.
On July 29 he gave $18,000 to an electioneering committee that recently sent mailers supporting Pasco County Commission candidate Mike Moore, who is in a three-way primary race for the nomination.
“I generally have not gotten directly involved in the commission races, although I did endorse Mike Moore and (District 4 incumbent) Henry Wilson,” Simpson said.
The mailers were paid for by Florida First Forever Inc., a Tallahassee-based electioneering committee, which had not reported the expenditure as of Friday afternoon.
“I don’t think the any of that money was spent on the mailers for Mike Moore,” Simpson said. “Those groups get money from all over the place.”
The committee also received $15,000 from Conservative Leadership for Florida, another electioneering committee with ties to Tampa political consultant Anthony Pedecini.
Pedecini’s firm, Strategic Image Management, lists Harrison and New Port Richey Republican Chris Gregg among its clients. Gregg is running against Pasco County Republican Chairman James Mathieu for the chance to face state Rep. Amanda Murphy in November.
Committees tied to Pedecini spent $100,000 last year on attack ads for Republican Bill Gunter in the House 36 special election, but the Democrat Murphy won. Now the Pedecini’s “Families for Lower Taxes” committee has sent out two mailers this week supporting Gregg. Pedecini could not be reached for comment.
“I don’t know who paid for them,” Gregg said. “As long as they’re positive, that’s good. I mean it helps. I did two mailers and I don’t have anything left.”
But for Mathieu, who has feuded with Weatherford and party leadership, it’s like a case of deja vu. He ran against Gunter last year and was outspent 5 to 1 in the primary. “It’s a shame the public doesn’t know where these are coming from,” he said. “You can’t follow the money - there’s just no way to follow the money,” Mathieu said. “I’m running against an empty suit here. This is nothing but money from outside the area.”