GOP legislative candidates have big money edge

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Banking heavily on businesses and industry groups, Republican candidates are trouncing Democrats in raising money for key legislative races this fall, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

The maximum $500 donations to individual candidates are only part of the overall campaign-finance picture, as political parties and outside organizations spend millions to fill television screens with ads and stuff mailboxes with glossy mail pieces.

But the individual contributions give an indication about where money is flowing in legislative races — and where the major players are placing their bets. In some cases, the picture became even clearer with the latest campaign-finance reports that candidates filed before a Friday deadline.

Here is a look at the money in a dozen high-profile legislative races:

SENATE DISTRICT 8: State Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, has pulled away from Democrat Frank Bruno in raising money for this battleground seat in parts of Volusia, Marion and Lake counties.

Hukill raised $50,105 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12, the latest reporting period, and had an overall total of $478,056. Just since July 21, she has raised $190,344, and her latest report shows money from companies and groups such as Associated Builders & Contractors, the HCA health-care chain and companies related to Walt Disney World.

Bruno, the chairman of the Volusia County Council, raised $13,555 during the latest period and had an overall total of $331,048. As another point of comparison, he reported raising $107,500 since July 21. His contributors during the latest period included a Florida Justice Association political committee and the prominent Pensacola law firm of Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor.

SENATE DISTRICT 14: State Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, is an exception to the flood of money heading toward Republican candidates. At least part of the reason? GOP candidate Will McBride is a trial lawyer, which turns off business groups that regularly fight with the trial bar about limiting lawsuits.

Soto raised $60,070 during the latest period, giving him an overall total of $235,611. As a sign of his cross-section of support, Soto recently received contributions from groups ranging from the Florida Chamber of Commerce to the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

McBride, meanwhile, raised $14,500 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 and reported an overall total of $89,817. McBride collected only $16,300 between Sept. 15 and Oct. 12, though he has been able to compete financially because he loaned $205,000 to the campaign earlier in the year.

SENATE DISTRICT 34: Like Hukill, Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, has taken control of the money chase in her closely watched campaign against Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Boca Raton.

Bogdanoff had a huge haul during the latest reporting period, collecting $96,000 and bringing her overall total to $633,142. She recently has collected stacks of checks from physicians, gambling-related companies and the sugar industry, among others.

Sachs, who is running in the same district as Bogdanoff because of reapportionment, collected $30,830 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 and reported an overall total of $312,506 — slightly less than half the amount Bogdanoff has raised. Sachs got a boost during the most-recent period from labor groups, including firefighters and the Service Employees International Union.

HOUSE DISTRICT 7: With the GOP looking to pick up a seat in rural North Florida, Monticello Republican Halsey Beshears has far-outdistanced Bristol Democrat Robert Hill in raising cash.

The candidates were almost even during the latest reporting period, with Beshears collecting $18,900 and Hill bringing in $17,655. But overall, Beshears has raised $300,164 to help fuel his primary and general-election races, getting contributions this month from companies such CSX Transportation and Dosal Tobacco.

Hill, who also emerged from a primary fight, has raised an overall total of $80,240 as he tries to win in the district that stretches from Port St. Joe to Madison. He received money recently from groups such as the Florida Medical Association and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

HOUSE DISTRICT 30: Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, has continued to widen his fund-raising lead over Democrat Karen Castor Dentel in an Orlando-area district that could be the most hard-fought House race of the year.

Plakon raised $52,375 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 and reported an overall total of $366,301. Plakon has raised $190,259 since July 21, with money coming during the recent period from major players such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida and Publix Super Markets.

Dentel, a teacher, is part of a prominent Democratic family — her mother, Betty, was a state education commissioner and a sister, Kathy, is a Tampa congresswoman — and she also has heavy backing from teachers unions. But she is significantly behind Plakon in raising money, collecting $34,114 during the recent period and reporting an overall total of $158,409.

HOUSE DISTRICT 34: If former lawmaker Nancy Argenziano has any chance of knocking off Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, she will have to do it with the grass roots.

Smith collected $32,160 during the recent period and reported an overall total of $222,622. Argenziano, a former Republican House and Senate member running as an independent, raised $7,030 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 and had an overall total of $27,858.

The newly filed reports show the business community lining up with Smith, who got contributions from groups and businesses such as Associated Industries of Florida, Humana, Inc., and Duke Energy Corp. Argenziano, meanwhile, got money from groups such as the Florida Nurses Association and the Fraternal Order of Police.

HOUSE DISTRICT 42: In perhaps the strangest House campaign of the year, Celebration Republican Mike LaRosa got into the District 42 race Oct. 1 after GOP Rep. Mike Horner — generally considered a shoo-in for another term — dropped out because he was linked to a prostitution investigation.

LaRosa quickly raised $60,300 by the Oct. 12 end of the reporting period, with $45,000 of that amount coming from the state Republican Party. That immediately gave him a financial edge over Frostproof Democrat Eileen Game, who collected $5,435 during the period and reported an overall total of $12,760.

But even with a money advantage, LaRosa faces an unusual challenge in getting his name out to voters. Because LaRosa entered the race so late, ballots will still list Horner as the Republican candidate. That means voters will have to translate a vote for Horner as a vote for LaRosa.

HOUSE DISTRICT 47: Former Republican Rep. Bob Brooks and former Orange County Commissioner Linda Stewart both can tout their political resumes as they campaign in the Orlando area. But Brooks has a major fund-raising lead, collecting $37,260 during the most-recent period and reporting an overall total of $268,043. A physician and former secretary of the state Department of Health, his recent contributions included money from the hospital industry and health insurers. Stewart collected $9,163 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12, bringing her overall total to $70,954. Among her donors were labor unions and the Florida National Organization for Women.

HOUSE DISTRICT 49: Running for an open seat, Orlando Republican Marco Pena is a prime example of how the GOP has been able to win fund-raising battles this year.

Pena collected $63,480 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12, bringing his overall total to $212,044 — and erasing a money edge held by Orlando Democrat Joe Saunders. Since winning an Aug. 14 Republican primary, Pena has raised $139,214, roughly double the $69,415 that Saunders has collected during the same time.

Most recently, Pena got money from companies such as the massive car-dealer AutoNation and NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light. Saunders, meanwhile, collected $16,725 during the two-week period and reported an overall total of $178,485.

HOUSE DISTRICT 68: Former Rep. Frank Farkas, R-St. Petersburg, started his campaign to return to the House in June, after Rep. Jeff Brandes decided to run for the Senate.

And since then, Farkas has pounded his Democratic opponent, St. Petersburg attorney Dwight Dudley, in raising money. Farkas collected $51,910 during the most-recent period and reported a total of $180,695. Dudley, meanwhile, raised $16,015 during the period, bring his overall total to $73,185.

Farkas got money recently from groups such as retailers, the cable-television industry and health insurers. Dudley received the backing of groups such as the Florida Education Association and the Florida Police Benevolent Association.

HOUSE DISTRICT 89: More than two decades after serving as House speaker, Boca Raton Democrat Tom Gustafson decided this summer to try to return to the Legislature after another candidate dropped out of the District 89 race.

But Gustafson will have to overcome a financial disadvantage if he is going to beat Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, in November. Gustafson collected $14,045 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 and reported an overall total of $62,613.

Hager, who has been raising money since early 2011, collected $21,150 during the most-recent period, bringing his total to $213,915. The Republican received money from groups such as optometrists and the Florida Hospital Association, while Gustafson received help from groups such as unions representing teachers and health-care workers.

HOUSE DISTRICT 120: With House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, D-Key West, running unsuccessfully for the Senate this year, Republicans see a chance to pick up a Keys-based seat. GOP candidate Holly Merrill Raschein has dominated fund-raising, collecting $44,020 between Sept. 29 and Oct. 12 and reporting an overall total of $189,956. She received money recently from a wide range of businesses and groups, such as AT&T, Bank of America and U.S. Sugar Corp. Democrat Ian Whitney, meanwhile, raised $9,385 during the recent period, bringing his total to $48,595. His contributors included teachers unions.

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including,,, 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.