In the long-running competition for leadership of the Senate in 2016, Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater is outpacing rival Sen. Joe Negron of Stuart in one category: raising money.
Both senators formed political committees to advance their presidential bids. The committees (formerly CCEs, committees of continuous existence) can accept unlimited contributions.
Latvala's Florida Leadership Committee is approaching the $2 million mark, with nearly $1.9 million in contributions through Sept. 26. Negron's Treasure Coast Alliance raised $1.7 million through the same period. But since the legislative session ended May 2, Latvala has raked in $985,000, compared to $279,000 for Negron's committee.
"I had a good session and I got a lot of stuff done," said Latvala, who added that Negron enjoyed a built-in fund-raising advantage as chairman of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee.
The surge of money allows Latvala to invest heavily in the campaign of former Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff of Fort Lauderdale in her fight to unseat Democratic Sen. Maria Sachs, who beat Bogdanoff in 2012, and is the only competitive Senate race in the state. Latvala's PAC sent $325,000 to another committee, Floridians for Integrity in Government, that has bought TV ads highlighting ethics allegations against Sachs over her legal residence.
Negron said that since the session ended, he has focused more on helping Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, raise money through the Republican Party of Florida to help Senate candidates across the state and focusing on his own re-election. Negron and Latvala are both expected to easily win new terms in November.
"My focus has been on helping Senator Gardiner and making sure the entire Republican caucus comes back," Negron said.
Latvala's committee got a $100,000 check last month from Pinellas entrepreneur Bill Edwards and received $130,000 from the public employee union AFSCME, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. Latvala is a rare Republican lawmaker with a pro-union record, and has opposed changes to the state pension system that AFSCME opposes.
Other recent five-figure donations to Latvala's PAC came from Amscot Corp., Associated Industries, Dosal Tobacco Corp., Florida Blue, Florida Retail Federation Grocery Council and the Palm Beach Kennel Club.