Politics | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

A Million Here, a Million There for Legislative Candidates

By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida
By: Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, June 12, 2012

Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

When Florida senators gather after the November elections, perhaps the wealthiest man in the Legislature could lead a chamber dotted with millionaires.

Newly filed campaign documents show that 21 Senate candidates this year have net worths of more than $1 million ---with 13 of the candidates topping $3 million. Incoming President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who made a large chunk of his fortune in the health-care industry, far outdistanced all other Senate candidates with a reported net worth of nearly $24.9 million.

Across the fourth floor of the Capitol, 45 House candidates have net worths above $1 million, according to the reports. The only House candidate in Gaetz's financial ballpark is former Rep. Carl Domino, a Jupiter investor who is trying to make a comeback to the House and reported a net worth of about $24.3 million.

The number of millionaires running this year is only a portion of the overall number of candidates. In the Senate, for example, 98 candidates qualified last week to run in the 40 districts.

Also, net worths, which compare assets with liabilities, vary widely. Some candidates even have negative net worths, with the reports pointing to issues such as people owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth.

But the numbers also show that many lawmakers have net worths that far exceed those of typical families. A Federal Reserve study released Monday showed that the median net worth of American families in 2010 was $77,300, down from $126,400 in 2007.

In all, 38 Senate candidates listed net worths of more than $500,000, while 86 House candidates were above that level. Candidates have to file financial-disclosure reports as part of qualifying to run for office, with some candidates using their end-of-year 2011 data to calculate net worths and some using more-recent information.

Along with Gaetz and Domino, five legislative candidates listed net worths of more than $9 million. They were incumbent Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, with $15,089,066; Senate candidate William McBride, R-Orlando, with $12,534,093; Senate candidate Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, with $12,270,951; Senate candidate Jeff Brandes, who is currently a Republican House member from St. Petersburg, with $10,354,868; and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, with $9,677,988.

The millionaires also range from some of the most-prominent members of the Legislature to Tallahassee newcomers. For instance, Republican Senators John Thrasher and Jack Latvala, who are widely viewed as competing to become Senate president in 2016, reported net worths of $6,582,648 and $5,682,221, respectively.

After McBride and Simpson, the next-wealthiest newcomer is House candidate Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, who reported a net worth of $6,689,629.

The reports show candidates making their money in numerous ways, with investments in real estate and businesses common. Two of the wealthier House members, Republicans Dennis Baxley of Ocala and Ken Roberson of Port Charlotte each have net worths topping $5 million --- and each are in the funeral-home business.

Digging through the reports also gives a glimpse of business ties between lawmakers. For example, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Wesley Chapel Republican who listed a net worth of $267,943, reported that he had received $36,204 in income from Simpson Environmental Services --- a Trilby firm headed by Senate candidate Simpson.

Perhaps closer to home, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, reported owing $50,000 to his father and $76,604 to his mother and father. With a net worth of $964,499, Matt Gaetz is not quite at the same financial level as his father, the incoming Senate president.


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