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Special interests give big to both Ds and Rs leading to general election

What recession? Despite the state having the highest jobless rate in decades, homeowners struggling with mortgage rates, and consumer spending depressed, Florida's Republican and Democratic parties hauled in nearly $31.6 million in the two months since the primary election -- a record for Democrats -- according to finance reports filed on Friday.

Corporations, labor unions, wealthy individuals and political committees donated uncapped sums to fuel one of the most expensive election cycles on record. And even though polls show a lopsided number of voters favor Republicans this election cycle, the Florida Democratic Party showed its fight too -- raising just slightly more ($32,000) than the Republican Party of Florida. 

The Republicans, marred by a year of intra-party infighting, were helped in part by Rick Scott, the millionaire businessman who has financed his own campaign with a record $73 million, making it the most expensive race in Florida history. 

By contrast, Democrat Alex Sink finished the fundraising cycle having raised $11.2 million, including $6 million in soft money from in-kind contributions. Her campaign was aided by the Florida Democratic Party, which has no limits on what it can collect from contributors. She used the money to pay for the salaries of Sink’s campaign manager, communications director and other top deputies. 

Both parties spent about $35 million during the last two months, mostly on three-pack ads that highlighted their governor’s candidates as well as others on the ballot. The Democrats spent $21 million in the last two months on the ads, including another $721,000 in direct mail. The Republicans spent $2.6 million opposing the redistricting amendment on th e ballot, Amendments 5 and 6. They spent $2.4 million on what is called “contract labor,” $4.6 million on direct mail, $331,000 on legal fees, $17.9 million on television, $1.2 million on polling and $1.4 million on consulting. 

The top contributor to the Democratic Party in the last two months was the Democratic Governor’s Association, which steered $6.3 million to Democrats to boost Sink’s campaign. Lawyers and labor unions were the next big donors, contributing $3.9 million and $1.7 million respectively. 

The DGA steered its money to a political committee set up by Tallahassee lawyer Mark Herron, named the MARK pac. The MARK pac also raised $2.8 million from the Florida teacher’s union and its national partner, and collected $450,000 from Emily’s List, the fundraising organization that promote liberal-leaning women candidates. 

The biggest contributor to the Florida Republican Party since August was the Republican Governor’s Association, which put in $6.5 million. The next biggest contributors:  U.S. Sugar ($1.7 million), Blue Cross Blue Shield ($910,000), a Miramar company owned by a pair of doctors ($735,000), paving giant Anderson-Columbia and its retired president ($655,000), and the Seminole Tribe ($550,000). 

Most of those donors did an about face from the primary, when they were staunch supporters of Attorney General Bill McCollum’s primary run against Scott. Among them was Blue Cross/Blue Shield, the Jacksonville-based health insurance giant, which gave $475,000 to the Republicans and $453,000 to the Democrats. Automated Healthcare Solutions, a Miramar company headed Drs. Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass, helped finance McCollum’s last-minute attack ads against Scott. Since then, they steered $605,000 to the party. 

Big GOP donors since August:  

  • U.S. Sugar and Southern Gardens Citrus: $2.1 million
  • Florida Crystals: $170,000
  • The Villages: $310,000
  • GEO Group: $323,000
  • Progress Energy $252,000
  • Teco Energy: $440,000
  • FPL: $465,000
  • Preserve the American Dream, political committee of Chief Finaicial Officer candidate Jeff Atwater: $438,000
  • Morgan and Morgan, lawyers: $100,000
  • Al Maloof: $275,000 (a business consultant seeking work on Miami-Dade Expressway Authority.)
  • In flight Leasing Group: $150,000
  • Holland and Knight: $120,000
  • HCA: $50,000
  • Gulfstream Park Racing: $165,000
  • Seminole Tribe and its casinos: $550,000
  • GMRI: $195,000(restaurants in Orlando)
  • Fountainbleu: $100,000
  • Florida Phosphate: $152,000
  • Mosaic Fertilizer: $115,000
  • Florida Credit Union PAC: $170,000
  • Miguel Fernandez: $160,000
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield: $910,000
  • Joe Anderson, retired president Anderson Columbia road builder: $655,000
  • Disney: $251,000
  • Autonation: $168,000
  • Altria Client Services $325,000 (tobacco)

Big Democratc donors since August:

  • AFL-CIO: $100,000
  • AFSCME: $2.1 million
  • Blue Cross/Blue Shield: 453,000
  • Democratic Congressional Committee: $609,000
  • Democratic National Committee: $693,000
  • SEIU: $875,000 (service workers union)
  • Dosal Tobacco: $117,000
  • Florida Credit Union PAC: $197,500
  • Florida Justice PAC: $118,000
  • Florida Police Benevolent Assn: $103,000
  • Florida Power & Light: $220,000
  • IBEW: $162,000
  • Paul Tudor Jones: $200,000 (environmentalist)
  • Florida Education Association: $2.7 million (teacher’s union)
  • Haggard law firm: $110,000
  • Seminole Indians and casinos: $260,000

-- Mary Ellen Klas and Lee Logan