Legislative candidates elected without opposition have approximately $3.4 million left in campaign coffers

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At noon on Friday, June 20, when 46 state legislative candidates – 38 in the House, eight in the Senate – were elected without opposition, their respective campaign treasurers were faced with an interesting quandary: what to do with all of the money in the candidates’ bank accounts.

According to the most recent campaign finance reports, the lucky 46 candidates running for the State House or Senate had approximately $3,402,340 in their campaign coffers.

Combined, the 30 candidates for the Florida House who won without opposition had approximately $1,980,656 cash-on-hand. The eight candidates for the Senate had approximately $1,421,684 left among them.

It’s only logical that some of the candidates with the largest campaign accounts are going unchallenged. Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, never likely to face a serious challenge, has raised and spent tens of thousands of dollars. He still has nearly $30K left in his campaign account. Rep. Dana Young, one of the most prodigious fundraisers in legislative politics, has approximately $170,000 cash-on-hand.

The average amount left in these legislative accounts is $55,018 for State House candidates and $176,585 for State Senate candidates.

With all of that money, candidates have a variety of options for disposing of it – and dispose of it they must, at least most of it. Unlike previous election cycles, candidates can retain up to $20,000 for re-election to the same office.

But that’s not the only major change to the campaign finance laws governing how candidates must dispose of funds. The other change is a new $25,000 limit to the amount a candidate can transfer to a political party.

Once a candidate is unopposed, he or she may only expend funds from the campaign account to: 1. Purchase “thank you” advertising for up to 75 days after he or she became unopposed; 2. Pay for items that were obligated before he or she became unopposed; 3. Pay for expenditures necessary to close down the campaign office and to prepare final campaign reports; or 4. Dispose of surplus funds as provided in Section 106.141, F.S..

This statute stipulates that candidates can return the unspent money to their donors pro rata, donate the funds to charity, give the money to their political party, give the money to the state’s general fund and/or transfer money to their legislative office account (up to $10,000 times the number of years in a lawmaker’s term).

The 2012 election cycle was a “party for the parties,” according to Nancy Watkins, a campaign treasurer to dozens of Florida political candidates. But now, with the new rules, the part may be over. Watkins now says, “The party is over.”

How the winning candidates divvy up their spoils remains to be seen, but at least we now know that there is $3.4 million burning holes in several politicians’ pockets.

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.