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'Soft-money,' big checks fuel lawmakers' personal committees

Florida legislators have padded their personal political committees with more than $20 million in special interest donations this election cycle, using the funds to buy attack ads, help colleagues win races and, occasionally, pay for travel, meals and perks.

More and more, special interest groups are sending five- and six-figure campaign checks to lawmakers through committees as a way to avoid the usual $500 cap on individual donations, a Times/Herald analysis shows.

The Florida Medical Association, for example, contributed $100,000 this cycle to a political committee controlled by incoming Senate President Don Gaetz and others. Disney donated $190,000 to another GOP-controlled group, Protect our Liberty.

And then there's GOP super-donor and Houston homebuilder Bob Perry, who pumped $250,000 into House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford's Committee for a Conservative House.

Decried by critics as slush funds, these "committees of continuous existence," or CCEs, allow powerful lawmakers to amass huge campaign treasure chests and spend the money with broad latitude. Each day, thousands of dollars course through the political system, flowing between CCEs, interest groups, consultants and lawmakers. By the time the money reaches voters in the form of a campaign ad, it can be difficult to know the true source of the funding.

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