Florida political parties raise millions ahead of primary

In the months leading up to the crucial primary election, Florida’s two political parties and affiliated committees took in millions from gambling interests, utility companies and others with a stake in the outcome of this year’s contests.

Campaign fundraising reports filed late Friday showed that the Florida Democratic Party raised $4.72 million in cash compared to $4.1 million to the Republican Party of Florida over the last five months.

This is the first time in years that the Democrats have raised more money for its state accounts – which are kept separate from federal accounts – than Republicans.

Republicans control the Florida Legislature and governor’s mansion and usually raise substantially higher amounts than Democrats. But a split among GOP leaders has fragmented their efforts.

Gov. Rick Scott has stopped raising money for the state party and is instead raising money for his own political committee. Republicans who control the state Senate have also set up their own fundraising account separate from the party. The GOP state senate committee reported raising $5.17 million since April.

Republican Party of Florida chairman Blaise Ingoglia on Saturday took to Twitter to point out the state party and Senate fundraising numbers should be combined because “it all goes to get Republicans elected. That’s what matters.” He also added “we still crush” the Democrats in raising money.

Democrats, however, still touted their fundraising totals. Party chairwoman Allison Tant in a statement that the money will help the party with its organization efforts ahead of the November election and help elect Democrats up and down the ballot.

“We look forward to building on our momentum and keeping Florida blue for the third presidential election in a row,” Tant said.

Both parties received donations from key industries and businesses in the state who depend on the actions of state government and the Florida Legislature.

The Seminole Tribe of Florida, which is locked in a gambling dispute with the state, donated $210,000 to the two parties and the GOP senate committee. U.S. Sugar, which has land that some environmentalists want the state to buy as part of an effort to reduce algae blooms, has given $240,000 since April. Other major donors include Disney and the state’s largest utility company Florida Power & Light, which is seeking a rate hike right now from state regulators. Unions and some of Florida’s prominent law firms also made donations.

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Republican Senate leaders raise hundreds of thousands of dollars in run up to primary elections

Top Senate Republicans raised brought in big hauls through their political committees over the past two weeks according to newly filed finance reports.

Between Aug. 13 and Aug. 25, Fort Meyers Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto brought in $142,500 through her “Protect Florida Families” committee, including $50,000 checks from Trilby Sen. Wilton Simpson’s “Jobs for Florida” committee and Sen. Bill Galvano’s “Innovate Florida” committee.

Benacquisto’s PAC contributed $200,000 of its balance to “Truth Matters Inc.,” the committee behind ads attacking her primary opponent Jason Maughan in the SD 27 race, leaving Protect Florida Families with about $166,000 on hand.

Simpson’s committee also broke the six-figure mark with $185,500 in contributions during the two-week reporting period. Among his donors were the Associated Industries of Florida, which gave $130,000, and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which gave $35,000.

The future Senate President had about $771,000 on hand in his committee Aug. 25, while Senate Majority Leader and fellow future Senate President Bill Galvano had about $885,000 in the bank.

The $132,500 in contributions on Galvano’s report came in through 21 checks, including two from Disney that combined to $35,000. MCNA Health Care Holdings chipped in $25,000, while lobbyist Ron Book gave $10,000.

Incoming Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala bested them all with $207,750 in contributions to his “Florida Leadership Committee.” The Clearwater Republican’s top donor was 2022-2024 House Speaker hopeful Randy Fine, who gave $36,000 through his committee, “Foundation for our Children’s Future.” Former House Speaker Will Weatherford’s PAC, “Committee for a Stronger Florida,” also chipped in $25,000.

FLC finished the reporting period with a little over $2 million on hand.

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Florida Republicans state Senate campaign arm raises more than $5M ahead of primaries

The political committee formed to help Republican state Senate candidates raised more than $5 million since April.

State records show the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee raised nearly $5.2 million between April 1 and Aug. 25. The committee is led by Senate President Designate Joe Negron, and was set up by Senate leaders to raise money for Senate races across the state.

“Treasure Coast Alliance,” Negron’s own political committee, gave $307,000 to the FRSCC. State records show Negron’s committee gave four contributions between May and August.

Other top donors include TECO Energy, which gave $200,000; “Innovate Florida,” the political committee backed by Majority Leader Bill Galvano, which gave $175,000; the Florida Medical Association, which gave $150,000; and U.S. Sugar Corp., which gave $130,000.

The committee also received $25,000 donations from the campaigns of Sens. Denise Grimsley, Aaron Bean, David Simmons, Rob Bradley, and Tom Lee. All five were elected unopposed earlier this summer.

Records show the committee spent more than $3.2 million between April 1 and Aug. 25. That sum included more than $772,500 to Data Targeting for direct mail, consulting and polling services.

The committee has raised more than $16.6 million and spent $6.7 million since October 2014. It ended the reporting period with more than $9.8 million in the bank.

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Polling recap: Several state Senate races remain close as primary nears

For better or worse, all eyes will be on several Florida Senate races come election night.

FloridaPolitics.com commissioned a series of polls in recent weeks to look at how candidates in Senate District 17, 19, 23 and 28 were faring. In many cases the surveys — conducted by St. Pete Polls — showed tight races leading up to the Aug. 30 primary. Associated Industries of Florida looked at how Democrats were faring in Senate Districts 31 and 34.

Senate District 17

It might just be one of the nastiest races of the election cycle, and recent polling shows the race between Reps. Debbie Mayfield and Ritch Workman is close.

The survey, conducted on Aug. 25, found 37 percent of likely Republican voters polled said they were backing Mayfield. About 33 percent of respondents said they were backing Workman.

According to the survey, 41 percent of respondents had already cast a ballot. Nearly 59 percent of voters polled said they planned to vote in the election.

A third Republican, Mike Thomas, is also running for the seat.

The margin of error was 3.6 percent.

Senate District 19

It’s still anyone’s game in Senate District 19.

Those were findings of a recent poll conducted for FloridaPolitics.com. The survey found the race is essentially tied, proving the outcome will depend heavily on ground game and get-out-the-vote efforts in the final days of primary.

The survey, conducted Aug. 24, found 26 percent likely Democratic voters said they were backing Ed Narain. Darryl Rouson was in second with 24 percent, followed followed by Betty Reed with 19 percent. Augie Ribeiro is polling at 17 percent, while 14 percent of voters said they were undecided.

Fifty-four percent of respondents said they had already voted in the primary.

The margin of error was 3.5 percent.

Senate District 23

Four points separate three Republicans running in Senate District 23, according recent polling.

The survey, conducted Aug. 22, showed 26 percent of likely Republican voters were backing Rep. Greg Steube. Nora Patterson was at 24 percent, while former state Rep. Doug Holder was at 22 percent.

Rep. Ray Pilon is in fourth with 16 percent, an improvement from a similar poll taken about a month ago.

A July poll by St. Pete Polls showed Holder was leading the pack with 29 percent of the vote. Steube was at 23 percent and Patterson was at 20 percent.

Republican Rick Levine is also running. He received 4 percent in the poll, and 9 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The margin of error was 3.8 percent.

Senate District 28

Call it a nail-biter.

That’s what FloridaPolitics.com did back in July after a poll showed the Senate District 28 race was a toss-up.

The survey found 36 percent of likely Republican primary voters were backing Rep. Matt Hudson, while 34 percent picked Rep. Kathleen Passidomo. At the time, 30 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they were undecided.

Hudson has received the backing of the Republican Liberty Caucus, the Eagle Forum PAC and Florida Family Action. He’s also received the backing of Florida Realtors PAC and the Florida Professional Firefighters.

Passidomo has been endorsed by Sen. Garrett Richter and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and has had fundraising help from Sens. Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, both in line for the Senate presidency.

The most recent poll was conducted in July. It had a margin of error 4.4 percent.

Senate District 31

Jeff Clemens could be poised for a comeback.

A tracking poll from Associated Industries of Florida earlier this month showed the Lake Worth Democrat was leading Irv Slosberg by 4 percentage points in Senate District 31. The numbers were a complete reversal from about a month ago, when Clemens trailed Slosberg by double digits.

According to the AIF tracking survey, Clemens leads the field with 33 percent support. Slosberg is in second with 29 percent, followed by Emmanuel Morel with 4 percent. The survey found 34 percent of people were still undecided.

A similar survey in July found Slosberg led Clemens 44 percent to 13 percent.

Senate District 34

It might not be as close as some of the other races this election, but the Senate District 34 primary is still worth a look.

A recent Associated Industries of Florida survey found Gary Farmer led the pack with 28 percent support, followed by Gwyn Clarke-Reed with 21 percent. Jim Waldman received 13 percent.

The survey found 39 percent of those polled were still undecided in the district, which follows the Atlantic Coast from Fort Lauderdale through Boynton Beach.

The survey of 300 likely Democratic voters had a margin of error of 6 percent.

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Florida Dems raised $4.7 million in second fundraising period of 2016

Florida Democrats posted big fundraising numbers in the second reporting period of 2016.

State records show the Florida Democratic Party raised more than $4.7 million between April 1 and Aug. 25. That sum accounts for non-federal funds, and is more than double what the Florida Democratic Party raised in the second period of 2012.

“We’re using these funds to hold Republicans accountable and build the strongest grassroots field program the state has ever seen,” said Allison Tant, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.

State records show the state party received $393,900 from Independent Leadership for Florida, the committee backing Rod Smith in Senate District 8; $198,513 from Each Vote Counts, the committee backing Jeff Clemens in Senate District 31; and $137,390 from Floridians for Ethics Accountability and Responsibility, the committee backing Gary Farmer in Senate District 34.

The state party also received $60,000 from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, $59,000 from U.S. Sugar Corp., and $55,000 from the FEA Solidarity Fund.

The state party spent nearly $3.8 million between April 1 and Aug. 25. Records show the state party spent $257,491 on salaries and $132,178 on canvasing during the time period.

“Already we’ve hired hundreds of field organizers, helped open 34 field offices across the state, and recruited thousands of volunteers to deliver Florida to Hillary Clinton and elect Democrats up and down the ballot in November,” said Tant in a statement. “We look forward to building our momentum and keeping Florida blue for the third presidential election in a row.”

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Chauncey Goss gets $1,000 donation from Jack Latvala in CD 19

Chauncey Goss is getting a little financial help from a top Florida Republican.

Campaign finance documents filed with the Federal Election Commission show Sen. Jack Latvala donated $1,000 to Goss’ congressional campaign Aug. 18. The donation was included in a 48-hour notice filed with the FEC on Aug. 19.

Goss is running in Florida’s 19th Congressional District. He’ll face Republicans Francis Rooney and Dan Bongino in the Aug. 30 primary.

A well-known Sanibel Island Republican, Goss ran for the seat in 2012, but came in second. He announced his 2016 run within hours of news that Rep. Curt Clawson wouldn’t run for re-election. Records show he raised $346,017 through Aug. 10. That number doesn’t include donations received in the final few weeks of the campaign.

This isn’t the first time Latvala, the incoming chairman of the Senate appropriations committee, has given to a congressional candidate this election cycle. The Clearwater Republican donated $1,250 to David Jolly, who announced in June he was dropping his U.S. Senate bid to run for re-election, on June 17 and another $189 on June 20.

Federal elections records also show he gave $1,000 to Rebecca Negron, who is running in Florida’s 18th Congressional District. The Stuart Republican is the wife of Senate President Designate Joe Negron, who had been locked into a battle with Latvala over the Senate presidency.

According to the same campaign finance report, Goss gave his campaign $15,000 on Aug. 18.

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Joe Henderson: Is privatization really best for Florida prisons?

A recent decision by the U.S. Department of Justice earned a headline or two, but quickly got lost in the chatter over Hillary Clinton’s emails and Donald Trump’s, well, everything.

Deputy Attorney General Sally Q. Yates announced a plan for “reducing — and ultimately ending — our use of privately operated prisons.”

She noted, “time has shown that they compare poorly to our own Bureau facilities. They simply do not provide the same level of correctional services, programs and resources; they do not save substantially on costs; and as noted in a recent report by the Department’s Office of lnspector General, they do not maintain the same level of safety and security.”

This covers inmates in the federal prison system but it’s worth noting that under Gov. Rick Scott, Florida has seven privately run prisons and the program has its share of critics. The state Department of Juvenile Justice has come under fire after allegations that young inmates were being mistreated at private facilities.

The department recently canceled its contract with Youth Services International, which runs a residential facility in Santa Rosa, after finding the facility “failed to correct deficiencies and sustain those corrective actions in areas involving safety and security, effective behavioral interventions, and appropriate reporting of incidents for this program.”

Privatization, along with reducing the size of government, has been a favored mantra of Scott since taking office in 2011. It makes a good campaign slogan to tout tax cuts and reduced spending, but at what cost?

Now that Florida leads the nation in the number of confirmed cases of the Zika virus, Scott is now pleading with Washington for money to help in the fight. The virus could threaten Florida’s $89 billion tourist industry, so we’ve gotta do something! Well, that’s great — now — but Scott also cut funding for mosquito control and research by 40 percent after he took office.

Government waste, I guess. Maybe we could start passing out cans of “Off” at the Florida Welcome Station or ask his pal Trump to build a giant wall around the state to keep illegal mosquitoes from crossing our border.

Scott, of course, is blaming Washington for the problem.

Scott also has said Florida has record funding for the environment, a claim PolitiFact rated “Pants On Fire.” That may be because after taking office, he cut more than $700 million from water management budgets and relaxed environmental regulations.

Tougher oversight might have helped prevent the algae bloom this summer, leading to polluted water, an awful stench, and Scott’s declaration of a state of emergency in the affected counties.

Budgets for mental health treatment have been slashed. Hundreds of jobs were eliminated at the state health department. The list goes on and on.

So does the debate over spending priorities.

Recent events show the debate is over on some things, though.

No. 1, just because something is run privately doesn’t mean it is run better. We need look no further than the prison system for proof of that.

And No. 2, there is a reason all those agencies that did obscure things like spraying for mosquitoes on the public dime existed.

Sure, cutting funding for an agency few people thought or cared about may have sounded good at the time. But then those pesky mosquitoes came along and ruined the party.

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Florida consumer sentiment drops in August, continues downward trend

Consumer sentiment among Floridians plummeted 4.8 points in August to 88.2, according to the latest University of Florida consumer survey. This is the lowest reading in the last year, and all five components that make up the index declined.

Perceptions of one’s personal financial situation now compared with a year ago dropped most sharply, down 10.5 points from 86.7 to 76.2. Expectations of personal finances a year from now fell by 7.8 points to 98.6. Opinions as to whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item such as a car declined by 3.1 points from 101.9 to 98.8.

These downward readings were shared by all Floridians except those aged 60 and over, whose readings showed little change.

“Most of the pessimism in August stems from the perceptions of personal finance situation now compared with a year ago and the expectations of personal finance situation one year from now, as these two components account for more than three-quarters of the change in the index,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research (BEBR).

Readings on U.S. economic conditions were down slightly for both short term and long term expectations: dropping 1.9 points to 85.1 for conditions over the next year and down nine-tenths of a point to 82.1 for the next five years.

Five years ago in August 2011, as Florida was recovering from the Great Recession, consumer sentiment among Floridians was at its lowest level of 61.4 points. The effects of the recession were still felt in Florida, with high levels of unemployment at 9.6 percent, and negative state gross domestic product (GDP) growth rates, a negative 2 percent in 2011.

Today, Florida’s consumer sentiment is 26.8 points higher, Florida GDP increased by 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2016 and ranked 10th in the nation, slightly higher than the 1.9 percent growth rate for the U.S. Furthermore, the real GDP growth rate in Florida has remained positive since 2012. Unemployment levels in Florida are currently at their lowest since the last recession, with an unemployment rate of 4.7 percent, unchanged from the previous two months.

“Despite the positive economic signals, consumer sentiment among Floridians seems to remain gloomy,” Sandoval said. “Except for July’s reading, consumer sentiment has followed a slightly downward trajectory over the last six months.”

Sandoval said that the state’s job market may be having an influence. “Although the number of jobs added statewide has remained positive for an outstanding 72 consecutive months, the unemployment levels haven’t decreased for the past three months, suggesting that the labor market has reached its ‘natural’ unemployment level. It is possible that economic agents are expecting a downturn in the economic activity in the medium-run, which is reflected in the latest trends of the consumer sentiment index.”

Some of the biggest drops in August were among those with incomes of $50,000 and over, down 10.4 points on expectations of their personal financial situation in a year. This may be partially due to concerns over decisions regarding retirement savings like IRAs and 401ks, whether to move money out of the stock market over predictions of an upcoming correction after seven years of record increases.

“We should keep in mind that consumer sentiment is in part designed to predict consumer spending,” said Chris McCarty, BEBR director. “Like much of the rest of the country, retail sales in Florida have been boosted by auto sales which are supported by historically low interest rates. Taking auto sales out of the picture, consumer demand for goods and services has been tepid and inflation well below the target rate of 2 percent. This is one of the indicators that raises questions for Federal Reserve Board members when they consider whether to raise interest rates in their September meeting. Most economists do not expect a rate increase anytime soon.”

Conducted Aug. 1-21, the UF study reflects the responses of 415 individuals who were reached on cellphones, representing a demographic cross-section of Florida.

The index used by UF researchers is benchmarked to 1966, which means a value of 100 represents the same level of confidence for that year. The lowest index possible is a 2, the highest is 150.

Details of this month’s survey can be found at http://www.bebr.ufl.edu/csi-data.

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Final poll of SD 17 GOP primary shows Ritch Workman closing gap vs. Debbie Mayfield

It is arguably the nastiest — and perhaps the weirdest — legislative race of the primary election cycle.

Not a day goes by without a negative flier landing in voters’ mailboxes. On most days, there are several.

A slew of Twitter accounts and websites authored by anonymous bomb-throwers have sprung up. The race has even featured a television ad in which not only the wife, but the ex-wife of one of the candidates, offers a testimonial to refute charges related to said candidate’s involvement with the Ashley Madison website.

Of course, I am referring to the Republican primary between state Representatives Debbie Mayfield and Ritch Workman in state Senate District 17.

For most of the race, the public polling have shown Mayfield with a wide lead over Workman. A Viewpoint Florida survey showed Mayfield lapping Workman 47 percent to 20 percent, with Mayfield holding big leads in both Brevard and Indian River counties.

A new St. Pete Polls survey commissioned by FloridaPolitics.com shows Workman is now in striking distance of Mayfield.

Among likely primary voters, Mayfield is at 37 percent, while Workman is at 33 percent. The third candidate in the race, Mike Thomas, receives 22 percent.

Bolstering the narrative that Workman could still catch Mayfield is the fact that 59 percent of SD 17 Republicans still plan to vote in the election.

The race has become one of the most-watched Senate races in the state, as the two state lawmakers battle it out to replace Sen. Thad Altman in the Florida Senate. The newly drawn district includes all of Indian River County and portions of Brevard County.

Outside groups are pouring thousands of dollars into the race, with two opposition groups — Accomplished Conservative Leaders Fund and Stop Career Politicians — popping up in hopes of exposing the records of Mayfield and Workman.

The poll of 737 Republican voters was conducted August 25th and has a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

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Personnel note: Robin Spillias to LeadingAge Florida

Robin Spillias has been promoted to Director of Membership for LeadingAge Florida, the organization announced Thursday.

Spillias

Spillias will direct and coordinate all activities related to membership recruitment, retention, renewal, and benefits.

“Robin is a problem-solver, an effective communicator, and a creative thinker,” LeadingAge Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer said in a statement.

“Her experience lends itself well to serving LeadingAge Florida’s member communities,” he added. “Robin’s interpersonal skills and passion, coupled with her background in marketing and public affairs, make her an integral part of our team.”

Spillias said she was “excited about the possibilities ahead of me to work with and serve LeadingAge Florida members … I look forward to reaching out to prospective members to create mutually beneficial relationships focused on our promise to advocate, educate, and serve.”

LeadingAge Florida was formerly known as Florida Association of Homes and Services for the Aging. Founded in 1963, it represents continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs), nursing homes, and assisted living facilities, among others.

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