The debate over gambling may be dead in the Florida Legislature for this session, but it's short life was very lucrative for legislative campaign coffers.
The Republican Party of Florida raised nearly three times as much as the Florida Democratic Party from gambling interests, as is usually the case, but to get there you have to exclude the $375,000 contribution to the Democrats from a global gaming company, Delaware North Corporation, that wanted to influence a local election.
Gambling interests gave the Republican Party of Florida $832,000 between Jan. 1 and March 30 and, not including the Delaware North money, gave Democrats $347,000. That includes $150,000 in checks to each of the parties from the Seminole Tribe -- which also gave Gov. Rick Scott's political committee $500,000.
Gaming companies gave thousands to the political committees of legislative leaders as well, as new laws opened the door to unlimited contributions but greater transparency.
On the other side of the gambling scale is Disney, which vigorously opposes allowing so-called destination resorts into Florida to compete with its convention business. The company gave close to $550,000 to state level campaigns in the last quarter, including $323,000 to the Republican Party and $71,640 to the Democratic Party.
The company's affiliates also gave a $250,000 check to the Florida Chamber political action fund, the Florida Jobs PAC. and $25,000 each to Sen. Bill Galvano and Rep. Richard Corcoran.
The biggest contributors among the gambling interests were represented by the lobbying firm of Ballard Partners, headed by Brian Ballard.
Two of those companies is Bayfront Development and Resorts World Miami, both owned by the Malaysian-based Genting which has invested heavily in bringing a resort casino to Florida. The companies gave $883,000 to political committees and parties this quarter, including $326,000 to the Republican Party and $90,000 to the Democrats, $225,000 to the governor and they cut several large checks to the political committees of key lawmakers.
Among them: $40,000 to the political committee of Rep. Jose Oliva, $40,000 to the political committee of Sen. Joe Negron, $25,000 to the political committee of Sen. Jack Latvala, $25,000 to the political committee for Rep. Richard Corcoran, and $20,000 to the political committee of Sen. Jeff Clemens.
Ballard also represents Palm Beach Kennel Club, owned by the Rooney family, which gave$159,000 this quarter to legislators and parties, including $100,000 to the RPOF and $15,000 to the Democratic Party. The company is holding out to get legislative approval for slot machines.
More than half of the Democrat's money may not have been intended to influence Tallahassee politics as much as a local race. About $375,000 in this quarter came from Delaware North Companies, a $3 billion global food service and hospitality company headquartered in Buffalo, N.Y. The company has developed video lottery terminals software and is part owner of Calder Race track. Ballard's firm also represents Delaware North.
The company is headed by Jeremy Jacobs, whose family has been active in local politics in Wellington, where the family owns a several-hundred acre equestrian farm.
The Palm Beach Post reported on Saturday that local residents believe that the Delaware North contributions were steered to the Democratic Party in an unsuccessful attempt to help two Democrats win seats on the Wellington Village Council in the March 11 election.
Jacobs opposes a large-scale commercial development planned in the heart of the community’s equestrian preserve that is being planned by developer Mark Bellisimo. In 2012, the Jacobs family spent at least $580,000 through the group Taxpayers for Integrity in Government to support its favored candidates in the Wellington village races, the newspaper reported.