As Gunter-Murphy race nears end, big money is on both sides

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As the big money rolls in from both political parties, the Pasco County House District 36 special election becomes bitter and nastier. Tuesday, voters will determine which candidate — Democrat Amanda Murphy or Republican Bill Gunter — will serve the final year of former Rep. Mike Fasano’s term.

The race began raising eyebrows, according to Bill Cotterell of the Florida Current, when the popular Fasano voted for Murphy. Fasano, who resigned the House in August his appointment to Pasco tax collector by Gov. Rick Scott, was a fixture in local politics, serving 18 years in the Florida House and Senate.

After Fasano’s “endorsement” (which he made official last week), the Florida Democratic Party saw it as an opportunity to make headway in a short-term race. They gave Murphy more than $56,000 since the primary — making nearly half her entire fundraising effort.

However, Murphy’s support is nothing compared to what the Florida Republican Party has done for New Port Richey pastor Gunter. The GOP funneled at least $165,000 into Gunter’s campaign. 

Between the two candidates, there has been more than $500,000 million raised, in both contributions and in-kind donations, including independent campaign committees raising the stakes even higher through negative campaigning with mass mailings and attack ads, Cotterell writes.

Republicans branded Murphy a “Wall Street Broker” who owns two homes, one in Mexico. A group called Citizens for Fairness financed the attack mailers featuring the accusationsIn reality, Murphy is a financial planner at Raymond James in Tampa, and the two “homes” are stakes in timeshares. Fasano paid for almost 8,000 “robocalls” to challenge the mailers.

“If you can’t stand up to the special interests funding these false attacks against Amanda Murphy, then you will never be able to stand up against those same special interests if you were elected as our next state Representative,” Fasano said. “You will be just another go-along-to-get-along politician who will fall into lock step with Tallahassee leadership.”

The Florida Current reports that Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross used his political committee Florida Jobs First for a $75,000 media buy for a series of last-minute television ads supporting Gunter.

Gunter‘s campaign raised a total $165,440, with another $211,423 of “in-kind” contributions, including the state party and House leadership fund. He reported spending $144,109, which does not include the spending by outside committees like Florida Jobs First or Citizens for Fairness.

Murphy collected $99,835 in contributions and $32,786 “in kind” support, most of which came from the Democratic Party and labor organizations. Her campaign cost $78,504.

In all, it is a lot if campaign money (and nasty politics) to win a seat that is only going to come up for re-election in about a year.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.