Money Flows to Big Races, GOP Leaders

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


Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida

New campaign finance reports tell two stories.

In the short view, the reports show that contributions during the past three months poured into the campaigns of House and Senate candidates who are locked in tight races. But bigger picture, the reports reinforce that the largest chunks of money in the 2012 election cycle have flowed to legislative leaders and other Republican incumbents.

In Senate races, eight of the top 10 fund-raisers during the year's second quarter are involved in high-profile campaigns. At the top of the list is former Senate President Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who collected $199,585 as he tries to defeat Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, and return to a Hillsborough County seat in the Senate.

Meanwhile, the Senate candidates who ranked third and fifth in raising money were incumbents Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, and Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton, who are battling for a redrawn South Florida seat. Bogdanoff raised $106,196, and Sachs raised $88,940 during the quarter.

Similarly, Democratic Reps. Mack Bernard and Jeff Clemens, who are competing for a Palm Beach County Senate seat, were in the top 10, with Bernard collecting $85,730 and Clemens hauling in $71,548.

Others in the top 10 during the quarter included Jacksonville Republican Rep. Mike Weinstein, who raised $72,635 and is competing with former Fernandina Beach Rep. Aaron Bean for a Northeast Florida Senate seat. Also, St. Petersburg Republican Reps. Jim Frishe and Jeff Brandes, who are running in a Tampa Bay Senate district, raised $71,932 and $68,450, respectively.

Of the other two Senate candidates in the top 10, incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who does not have a Democratic opponent, raised $160,090 during the quarter. Also, Miami Beach Republican John Daniel Couriel, who has received little attention, reported raising $104,001 as he takes on incumbent Democratic Sen. Gwen Margolis in a coastal Miami-Dade district.

The picture is similar in the House. Among the top 10 fund-raisers, Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, received $90,856 as he tries to defeat two other Republicans in a newly drawn House district in St. Johns County.

Similarly, Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz raised $81,225 as he tries to defeat another incumbent, Republican Ana Rivas Logan, in a Miami House district. In another example, Republican Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and Democratic challenger Karen Castor Dentel of Maitland were in the top 10, with Plakon raising $61,096 during the quarter and Dentel raising $53,482.

Other House candidates among the top fund-raisers were term-limited Sen. Mike Fasano, a New Port Richey Republican who is trying to return to the House, with $103,152; Rep. Doug Broxson, R-Gulf Breeze, with $80,075; Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, with $78,610; Rep. Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, with $70,241; Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, with $65,850; and Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, with $52,950.

Candidates faced a Friday deadline for filing updated contribution and expenditure reports for the second quarter of the year. The reports came after courts finalized legislative districts drawn as part of the once-a-decade reapportionment process.

While the reports show that donors funneled money to candidates in closely watched races, they also show that powerful lawmakers and many Republican incumbents have an overall financial edge.

The top total fund-raiser among Senate candidates is Rep. Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican who is trying to move to the Senate after serving the last two years as the powerful chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee. Grimsley has raised a total of $756,880.

Gaetz followed Grimsley with $632,350. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, was next, with $542,465.

Rounding out the top five were Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who are seeking to become Senate president in 2016. Negron reported a total of $503,665, while Latvala has collected $455,082.

Among House candidates who have opposition during this year's elections, the top overall fund-raiser is Rep. Chris Dorworth, a Lake Mary Republican who is slated to become House speaker in 2014. Dorworth had raised a total of $296,022.

The fourth-highest fund-raiser, meanwhile, is Rep. Richard Corcoran, a New Port Richey Republican who is slated to follow Dorworth as speaker. He reported a total of $239,412.

Other top House fund-raisers included Nunez, with $243,971; Diaz, with $243,835; and Bileca, with $238,250.

The updated campaign numbers also don't include reports from lawmakers who do not face opposition. As an example, incoming House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, does not have opposition but had already collected $421,800 in contributions through March 31.

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