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Charlie Justice’s congressional campaign criticized over paltry fundraising, excessive spending

in The Bay and the 'Burg by
No one ever said it was going to be easy for Charlie Justice (D-St. Petersburg) to knock off incumbent Bill Young (R-Indian Shores). After all, Young is in his 20th term in the US House, an all-powerful member of the Appropriations Committee and is the ranking minority member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. Because Young brings home to Pinellas County so much in federal money, it’s difficult to envision him leaving Congress on anything but his own accord.

But like David against Goliath, Charlie Justice has stepped forward to challenge the all-but-unbeatable. Instead of a slingshot, Justice is depending on a national progressive movement to defeat Young, criticizing the Republican for his opposition to Barack Obama.

Yet, strategically, there isn’t much enthusiasm for Justice’s upstart bid. Nationally, the Democrats have to defend a lot more incumbents than they did two years ago. As many as 48 seats may be in play in 2010 and Florida House District 10 wasn’t suppose to be one of them. But Justice has made his move and isn’t waiting for Young to retire, which he is rumored to be considering.

Some analysts have attempted to read between the lines of Justice’s move and speculate that the reason why he is running in 2010 is so that in the event he loses to Young, he will be the front-runner when Young eventually retires. As it happens, this may be Justice’s only shot at the nomination and the seat. After 2010, the seat is certain to be re-drawn during reapportionment. And while the new lines may increase a Democrat’s chances of winning the district, this will only insure that more Democrats will run for the open seat in 2012. This year may be Charlie Justice’s only shot.

Why then is Charlie Justice blowing the limited money he has raised?

According to the latest filings with the FEC, Justice raised $163,396 – a number that has been roundly lambasted as “lackluster.”The National Republican Campaign Committee just suggested that Justice’s challenge may be the ‘biggest flop’ of 2010.

With such limited fundraising, you’d think Justice would at least try to hold the line on expenses. But his campaign is suffering from a 38% burn rate, having gone through more than $60,000 of the 163K already raised. That 38% burn rate is dangerously high this early in the election cycle. And what is Justice spending his money on? Fundraising consultants.

Through September 30, Justice has spent at least $28,860 in direct disbursements to his fundraising consultants Joe Boyle and Joe Farrell. That’s not a lot by Washington standards, but paying $30,000 to two consultants who helped bring in only $163,000 isn’t justified. There are also a lot of expenses in Justice’s report for travel to DC, presumably where he went to raise money for his campaign.

And don’t forget that Justice has already turned on the faucet for his consultant Mitch Kates, having paid him $5,000 while Kates was still siphoning off of Scott Wagman’s losing campaign for St. Petersburg Mayor. Justice has also spent more than $4,000 on a website that is not much more than a knock-off of Wagman’s site.

With this kind of profligate spending, Justice will be hard-pressed to mount a real challenge to Bill Young, once Young begins campaigning in earnest. The worst case scenario for Justice is if he falls for argument that he can social-network his way to victory. Social networking has its place, but it has yet to be proven that it can win elections.

I am still not convinced about Justice’s viability, but he burned his ships at the shore a long time ago. He’s not term-limited, but he can’t run for the Florida Senate again because Jack Latvala has already amassed more than $300,000 for his bid to return to politics.

Think about that for a moment: Latvala, with $303,000 cash-on-hand has almost three times as much money in his bank account as the combined bank accounts of his opponent (Nina Hayden with $1,785 left on hand) and the man he hopes to replace (Justice with $101,000 left on hand).

Maybe Latvala should be the one running for Congress?

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.

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