Politics | WCTV Eyewitness News: Tallahassee, Thomasville, Valdosta

Fundraising Organizations Offer Few Clues on Leadership Race

By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida
By: Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 4, 2012

Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

With little more than a month to go before Senate primaries in a handful of key districts across the state, the fundraising organizations tied to different sides of a Republican leadership battle are offering a few scant hints about which side might be able to count on which lawmakers for support.

So far, the funds administered by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, and Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, have largely refrained from giving significant sums to their supporters. Latvala has said he believes he has enough votes to lock up the Senate presidency in 2016 depending on how the elections go.

But speculation that both sides of the leadership battle would pour money into contested primaries, scheduled for Aug. 14, has so far not materialized in the form of direct contributions.

The largest amount raised in this election cycle by any of the funds is the $2.4 million reaped by Florida Conservative Majority, which lists its purpose as "to identify and support issues and candidates promoting conservative principles."

The fund is associated with the next two Republicans in line for the Senate presidency -- Don Gaetz of Niceville and Andy Gardiner of Orlando -- and Negron.

But that fund has also spent roughly $2 million on services and contributions to Liberty Foundation of Florida, a super PAC.

The most prolific of the funds tied to one lawmaker is Latvala's Florida Leadership Fund, which has raised almost $954,000 since the beginning of 2011.

Latvala has done particularly well among labor unions, raising $55,000 from groups allied with the Florida Police Benevolent Association and $25,000 apiece from groups aligned with the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the AFL-CIO.

All of those reported contributions came in 2011 or early 2012, before Latvala helped lead a group of renegade Republican senators that killed a prison privatization plan on the Senate floor.

Pari-mutuels have also given generously to Leadership Fund, with Gulfstream Park Racing Association, Inc. kicking in $60,000, Derby Lane St. Petersburg Kennel Club giving $20,000 and Jaw's Racing contributing $1,000. Pari-mutuels have worked to kill legislation that would allow casino-style "destination resorts" in South Florida.

Like many of the funds, Florida Leadership has so far largely avoided contested primaries.

However, it has contributed $500 to Rep. Michael Weinstein, who is running against former Rep. Aaron Bean in a GOP primary in Northeast Florida.

Protect Our Liberty -- which is affiliated with half a dozen Republican senators -- has changed that tack, starting shortly after Negron signed on in May. The fund has given money to Rep. John Legg, running against former Rep. Rob Wallace; Rep. Jim Frishe, opposed by Rep. Jeff Brandes; and former Sen. Tom Lee, who faces Rep. Rachel Burgin.

Latvala's Florida Leadership Fund also contributed to Frishe.

That fund has raised more than $682,000 in the current election cycle, much of it from entertainment and business interests. Florida Jobs PAC, tied to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, has poured $225,000, all of it in 2011. A pair of contributions totaling $30,000 this year has brought the two-year total for Disney Worldwide Services to $130,000. Seaworld Parks and Entertainment has kicked in $6,000 as well.

Florida Crystals Corporation, an sugary growing company, has contributed another $30,000, the lion's share coming in a single contribution in June.


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