Rick Scott committee now at $5 million raised for 2014 race

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After collecting $100,000 from a firm backing resort casinos in south Florida, a political committee closely tied to Gov. Rick Scott has already raised more than $5 million as it prepares for the 2014 gubernatorial race, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Bayfront 2011 Development LLC, which is affiliated with the casino giant Genting Group, chipped in $100,000 this month to the “Let’s Get to Work” committee, according to information posted Monday on the committee’s website.

The Bayfront money is part of a steady stream of big-dollar contributions in 2011 and 2012 to the committee from businesses and Republican donors such as Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, Florida Power & Light, investor H. Wayne Huizenga and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.

Though Scott has not formally started his re-election campaign, the money gives him a major advantage as the 2014 election cycle begins. During 2011 and the first 10 months of 2012, the committee raised nearly $4.9 million, according to state campaign-finance reports. The committee’s website indicates it has raised another $210,000 in November and December.

Brian Ballard, a prominent Republican fund-raiser and lobbyist whose clients include Bayfront 2011 Development, said the Let’s Get to Work committee will be a primary vehicle for financing Scott’s re-election effort. The alternative would be to funnel large contributions for the Scott campaign through the state Republican Party.

The Let’s Get to Work committee also played an important role during Scott’s successful 2010 campaign, in part by helping the former hospital executive come out of relative political anonymity to topple then-Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary. The committee, which is technically known under state law as an “electioneering communications organization,” offered another way to pump millions of dollars into the effort to elect Scott.

The governor during the upcoming race also will have a more-traditional campaign account, but individual contributions to such accounts are limited to $500 — limitations that don’t apply to the Let’s Get to Work committee or to the party. It also remains unclear how much of Scott’s personal fortune he will spend on the campaign, after he plowed more than $70 million into the 2010 race.

Ballard said he expects the Let’s Get to Work committee to pick up fund-raising during the first half of 2013, as contributors recover from the drain of the 2012 presidential election and other campaigns. The Orlando Sentinel reported last week that former Senate President Mike Haridopolos will help host a $2,500-a-person fund-raiser for the committee Jan. 8 at the Orlando Airport Marriott.

“As far as I’m concerned, he (Scott) has got a lot of ground to cover, and I’m glad he’s starting early,” Ballard said Tuesday.

As Scott did when he won the 2010 election against Democrat Alex Sink, he likely will have a large financial edge over any opponents. A wildcard, however, could be whether former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist runs as a Democrat for his old job.

Crist, who left the GOP to become an independent in 2010 and changed his registration to Democrat last week, has been a mammoth fund-raiser in the past. Along with possibly being able to tap into deep-pocketed Florida contributors such as trial lawyers, he also gained attention this year in Democratic circles by campaigning for President Obama and giving a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

But at least for now, the Let’s Get to Work Committee has an open field for raising money. The biggest contributors in 2011 and 2012 were Blue Cross, $350,000; Huizenga and Huizenga Holdings, Inc., $265,500; Florida Power & Light, $250,000; and Adelson, $250,000, according to state elections records.

Others included a Florida Optometric Association political committee, $200,000; a Florida Retail Federation committee, $150,000; and a Florida Realtors fund, $150,000. Let’s Get to Work in June even received a $10,000 contribution from Morgan & Morgan, the statewide law firm that employs Crist.

Many of the major contributors have stakes in issues before Scott and the Legislature. Ballard said business contributors support Scott’s focus on creating jobs and spurring development.

The effort by Genting to build a resort casino in Miami stalled during the 2012 legislative session, and it is uncertain how Scott and lawmakers will address the issue in the future. Ballard said, however, that Genting wants to see growth in south Florida, as it has development plans even if a casino is not built.

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.