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Consumers for Smart Solar posts blockbuster $460K in first month fundraising

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In the race to expand solar energy in Florida, one side is opening strong by posting blockbuster first-month fundraising numbers, which they credit to a campaign of transparency and diversity.

Consumers for Smart Solar, the group behind a proposed solar amendment for the 2016 Florida ballot, announced Monday it raised more than $463,000 in its first month. The group collected $463,045 in July, far outpacing that of rival organization Floridians for Solar Choice.

To get an idea of the groundswell of support for Smart Solar, Florida Division of Elections records show that in one month, the organization took in just under $27,000 more than Solar Choice did in the entirety of 2015.

Smart Solar spokesperson Sarah Bascom said that Solar Choice, the people behind what she calls the “shady” solar initiative, received 77 percent of its total funding from a single out-of-state source — the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund.

As well as raising more money, support for Smart Solar came from a broad donor base representing a wide political spectrum. The solid first-month performance of Smart Solar, Bascom said, is a testament to a “transparent, diverse group of supporters” who oppose the “Shady” Solar Amendment.

Smart Solar is “designed to give Florida voters a better choice for solar on the 2016 general election ballot,” she added.

Among the top contributors to the Smart Solar campaign in July was the Florida Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Florida Faith & Freedom Coalition, National Black Chamber of Commerce and the 60 Plus Association.

Many of those groups are rebelling against the single out-of-state special-interest group backing Solar Choice.

“It’s not easy to trace the source of the money being given to the pro-solar initiative,” wrote Eric Barton of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting. “Most of the contributions to Floridians for Solar Choice, totaling $264,457, came from the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy Action Fund, which does not report the source of its money.”

Barton discovered that Fort Lauderdale lawyer George Cavros, treasurer for Solar Choice, also works for the Southern Alliance. Also, Solar Choice refuses to show the source of the money to protect “the privacy wishes of individual donors.”

“The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy has claimed in filings with the Federal Elections Commission that it ‘does not participate or intervene in any political campaign’ and, therefore, does not need to report its funding sources,” Barton continues. “It’s a position that has earned the group criticism for its use of ‘dark money’ spending to indirectly support political campaigns.”

Monday’s campaign filing also adds momentum to the Consumers for Smart Solar campaign, bolstered by a recent independent survey showing Floridians widely favor the Smart Solar Amendment. The Mason-Dixon poll found 66 percent of voters would support the Smart Solar Amendment on the November 2016 ballot. The initiative seeks to “establish a right under Florida’s constitution for consumers to own or lease solar equipment installed on their property to generate electricity for their own use.” Only 22 percent of respondents said they would not support it.

On the other hand, support for the “Shady” Solar Amendment is underwater — receiving just 30 percent approval and 45 percent opposing.

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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