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In race for money in AG race, Bondi holds huge lead over split Dems

Bad news for Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi: In October, her opponents started to raise money.

Good news for Bondi: It’s not much.

October campaign finance reports in the Attorney General race were released Tuesday, showing her campaign raised $76,578 in October, for a grand total of $481,479. In addition, an Electioneering Communications Organization named “And Justice for All” that’s dedicated to her reelection raised $84,100. That committee has raised a total of $894,082.

That gives Bondi, a former state prosecutor who was first elected attorney general in 2010, more than $1.3 million to spend against two Democratic challengers who entered the AG race near the end of October.

Because of that late entry, Florida House Minority Leader Perry Thurston and George Sheldon, the former secretary of the Department of Children and Families, had little time to scrape up enough money for a splashy debut of their campaigns’ finances.

Thurston, who announced on Oct. 26 that he was running, but didn’t file to run until Nov. 1. So he couldn’t raise any money until this month.

Sheldon raised $5,931 in October contributions after announcing he was running on Oct. 21.

“I’m going to have to invest money to bring in the dollars,” Sheldon said. He has yet to name a campaign manager, but Sheldon said he’s aiming to hire someone who has “been around the block a few times.”

He will tap two Washington D.C. Democrats to bolster his professional staff. He says his media consultant will be Dane Strother and his pollster will be David Beattie.

Informally, he’s got a bunch of old-line Democrats advising him. He said he talks with his former boss, Bob Butterworth, at least once a day. Butterworth, who served as attorney general from 1987 to 2002, is “deeply involved. I trust his advice.” Butterworth contributed $500, as did Democratic attorney Ron Meyer, who is giving Sheldon legal advice. Prominent Tallahassee lobbyist Sam Bell also kicked in $500. Sheldon said Bell, whose wife is former University of South Florida President Betty Castor, will help out his campaign in the Tampa area.

Speaking of which, Sheldon said he’s going to move to Tampa next year. From 1974 to 1982 he represented the city as a state representative. But he moved to Tallahassee in 1984, where he lives now. But he said Tallahassee is too remote and served by such a poor airport that it would make campaigning in Florida difficult.

“I like Tallahassee, but it’s hard getting anywhere from here,” Sheldon said. “Something has to be done about the airfares in Tallahassee.”

Sheldon said Bondi should have an edge in fundraising because she’s the incumbent, but nevertheless hopes to gain ground in the coming months. With a dip in fundraising expected due to the holidays, he said he hopes to pick up the pace starting in January.

Still, he is planning to have four fundraisers this month -- Orlando on Nov. 19, Tampa on Nov. 20, Fort Lauderdale with Butterworth on Nov. 21, and Tallahassee on Nov. 26.

Thurston says he will make announcements regarding his campaign soon.

Meanwhile, the financing of Bondi’s reelection efforts has grabbed some unflattering headlines. In September, she delayed an execution so she could attend a Sept. 10 fundraiser. In the same month, Donald Trump contributed $25,000 to “And Justice for All” at the same time that New York’s attorney general sued get-rich-quick seminars associated with Trump.

But number-wise, she holds a distinct advantage over any challengers that she further bolstered in October. She got contributions from single contributors that exceeded the entire amount raised by Sheldon. The Republican Party of Florida chipped in about $60,000 of in-kind contributions, such as staff pay, travel, rent and food. Tampa’s David A. Straz, chairman of the Florida Health Sciences Center, contributed $10,000 to “And Justice for All.” Liberty Partners, a Washington D.C. lobbying firm that includes former U.S. Senator Connie Mack, gave $25,000 to the same committee. Florida Blue Cross & Blue Shield also gave $25,000 to “And Justice for All.”

The main obstacle for Democrats could be figuring out who will take on Bondi. Neither Sheldon or Thurston show any indication that they will drop out to avoid a primary that will distract the few resources Democrats have against Bondi.

“I’ll prepare for Pam and if we have a primary, we’ll deal with that,” Sheldon said.

“I remain hopeful that it won’t come to (a primary),” Thurston said. “And remember, it’s not about the money, it’s about the message.”