As Approps chair rumors circulated, committee tied to Tom Lee raked in the bucks

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The political committee of state Sen. Tom Lee has taken in more than $214,000 since mid-November. That’s when SPB first forecasted that Lee would ultimately assume the reins of one of the Legislature’s most powerful posts, the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Now that he has, there’s little reason to believe the contributions will slow down much.

The Lee-affilliated Electioneering Communications Organization — formerly a “Committee of Continuous Existence” before CCEs were legislated out of existence in 2013 — received major contributions primarily from business-backed groups. Wal-Mart, Florida Crystals, Allied Industries of Florida, Alico, Vestcor Companies, Dosal Tobacco Corporation, Fidelity National Financial, and the GEO Group each gave $10,000 or more. Florida Power and Light, the state’s public-private utility company, chipped in $5,000 as well, among others.

This sizable warchest has largely been spent helping to support a wide network of Republican causes and candidates. Most significantly, The Conservative made a $250,000 donation to incoming Senate President Andy Gardiner’s Protect our Liberty PAC back in July.

But that elephantine figure wasn’t where Lee’s group’s truly left its mark on the summer of 2014. That would be when they bankrolled an effort to make more than 1.2 million robocalls to Democrats and independents around the state reminding them of Gov. Charlie Crist’s dramatic volte-face on gay marriage, restrictions on abortion, and his erstwhile identification as a “Ronald Reagan conservative.” The group repurposed Crist campaign ads from his days as a Republican and highlighted them in both the recorded calls and on a companion website,

The moves drew the ire of Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Allison Tant who filed a complaint to the Florida Elections Commission. The complaint was not acted upon by the commission. The ads, however, may have depressed gubernatorial turnout among conflicted Democrats. In a race as close as that one, they were probably worth every penny.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at