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Three out of four $$ this election cycle went to no-limits committee accounts

Florida’s sputtering economy did not stop interest groups and donors from spending $306 million this election cycle on state political campaigns, according to final election year tallies released Friday.

The number is lower than the $550 million reported in the 2010 election cycle and does not include the massive amount of federal cash spent in the presidential race. But it points to a new trend: more dollars are going to campaign committees rather than individual candidates.

Three out of every four dollars were unlimited checks to political committees, while the rest went into the campaign accounts of individuals, which are capped at $500 a check.

The shift is a sign that Florida’s $500 limit is outdated and dysfunctional — and ripe for reform, said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, which did the analysis of the campaign finance data released by the Florida Division of Elections.

“Candidate accounts have become nearly irrelevant,’’ said Krassner. The current system allows corporations to write unlimited checks to political committees with loose affiliations to candidates but require them to give no more than $1000 to individual candidates for both the primary and general election. The result is, he said, “the public cannot easy follow the money.’’

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has called for an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance reforms said Friday the numbers prove his point that the political committees – known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs – have gotten out of hand. Story here.

Top accounts:

Most expensive state House races:

Chris Dorworth, R-Orlando, defeated:$604,587

Michael Bileca, R-Miami, won:$600,934

Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, defeated: $511,321

Halsey Beshears, R-Monticellos, won: $489,025

Keith Perry, R-Gainesville, won:$464,837

Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, unopposed:$436,423

Bob Brooks, R-Orlando, defeated: $429,763

David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, won:$385,411

Marco Pena, R-Orlando, defeated:$381,414

Jeanette Nunez, R-Miami, won:$370,475

Most expensive state Senate races:

Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, defeated:$1,185,030

Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, won:$921,818

Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, won:$770,742

Dorothy L. Hukill, R-Daytona Beach, won:$757,379

Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, won:$729,845

Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, won:$727,935

Joe Negron, R-Palm City, won:$692,731

Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, won:$628,984

Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, won:$607,796

Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, won:$582,025

Top political committees in the 2011-12 Election Cycle:

Political Action Together — painters and builders union: $6.1 million

Let’s Get to Work — Gov. Rick Scott: $5.2 million

Taxpayers First — proponents of Amendment 4 property tax breaks: $4.7 million

Vote No on 6 — opponents of abortion amendment: $4 million

Realtors PAC — proponents Amendment 4: $3.9 million

American Resort Development Association — timeshare industry, supporting Amendment 4: $3.8 million

Liberty Foundation of Florida — undisclosed, supporting GOP candidates: $3.4 million

Defend Justice from Politics — supporting Supreme Court merit retention: $3.3 million

Enterprise Holdings — political committee for rental car company: $3.3 million

Honeywell International — political committee for technology company: $3 million

Source: Florida Division of Elections

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