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Pat Frank’s re-election campaign in December funded almost exclusively by Texas attorneys

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If you’ve procrastinated in paying a fine through the Hillsborough or Pinellas County Court system, chances are good that you’ve received a notice from Linebarger Goggan, Blair & Sampson, LLP, a Texas-based law firm that a great many clerks of the courts offices in Florida — and the country — use to collect tardy fines, fees or other costs assessed by the courts.

That’s also the same collection agency whose attorneys funded almost all of the campaign cash that Hillsborough Clerk of the Courts Pat Frank collected last month in her bid for re-election.

A review of the 21 different contributors who gave to Frank’s campaign for December finds that 18 of them were from attorneys who live in Texas and work for Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson. Another is from Chicago who also is associated with the law firm.

All told, of the $8,250 she received, $6,750 came from out of state contributors.

“We use a collection agency that’s based in Texas, so I guess they’re encouraging people who are helping them to send contributions to me,” Frank told SaintPetersBlog on Sunday. “We’ve had success in terms of their collections and we worked well together, so I guess they want to see me continue.”

Linebarger works for 2,300 clients nationwide in 21 states, and collects $1 billion for its clients each year, according to CNNMoney.

The company also spends millions on campaigns and lobbying efforts across the country. According to Texans for Public Justice,  the firm and its employees have spent more than $4.5 million on campaign donations since 2000.

A spokesperson for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers said he could not say how many clerks offices throughout the state use Linebarger, saying his agency hasn’t done any recent surveys on the subject. An Internet search shows that in addition to Hillsborough County, Pinellas, Pasco, Polk, Sarasota and Citrus clerk of the courts offices also use Linebarger, Goggan, Blair & Sampson as one of the collection agencies to collect delinquent fines.

Frank is involved in a competitive Democratic Party primary, running against County Commissioner Kevin Beckner in August. The winner will face Republican Eric Seidel in November.

Beckner noted that the majority of his support comes from within the Tampa Bay area.

“We have many grass roots supporters, and the people who support us are from this community, and if you look through her list, not only the ones from Texas but she’s also received funding from Pennsylvania, and other obscure sources,” Beckner said. “I think certainly our fundraising has shown that we appeal to the community and to the grassroots level of contributors.”

It should be noted that in previous months, the overwhelming majority of campaign cash coming to Frank has also been from the Tampa Bay area community, with December being an outlier.

Seidel said he had also observed the preponderance of Texas contributors in Frank’s most recent financial report, but said any comment about that would be speculative. “I work hard to get contributions from people who are local, with 99 percent of all my contributions.”

Frank told SPB that, “I also noticed Kevin has some contributions from people he funds,” referring to individuals representing companies who get business from Hillsborough County.

In fact, among those contributing to Beckner’s campaign include Waste Management of Florida ($1,000), Heidt Design ($1,000), ASC Consulting Group ($500), Clearview Land Design ($500), Mosaic Fertilizer ($500), waste removal company IESI Corp ($1,000) and Todd Pressman Associates ($250).

“If you look through my campaign list we have a diverse amount of people who contributed to our campaign. so we have people that come before the commission and we have people who are citizens from our community,” Beckner responded. “So we’re going to get a broad variety of people who contribute to the campaign.”

A clerk of the courts race rarely creates that much interest, but Frank and Beckner are two well respected Democrats competing for the same position, leading to more scrutiny of this contest.

In combined fundraising to date, Beckner leads with $149,234. Frank has raised $101,819, and Seidel $60,673.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

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