Supreme Court Justices have slowed fundraising for retention campaigns

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Now facing opposition from leaders of the state Republican Party, three Florida Supreme Court justices curtailed fund-raising this summer for their merit-retention campaigns, according to state campaign finance records, reports Jim Saunders of the News Service of Florida.

Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince raised a combined $40,758 between Aug. 10 and Sept. 14, reports filed Friday show. Since July 7, they have raised a combined $92,693.

Those totals are dramatically different from the first half of the year, when each of the justices raised about $300,000. Some conservatives have long said they would try to defeat the justices during merit-retention elections in November, but the effort got a potentially huge boost Friday when the state GOP announced its executive board had unanimously voted to oppose the justices — describing them as “liberals” who had been involved in extensive “judicial activism.”

While it was not immediately clear how aggressive the party will be in trying to oust the justices, Friday’s announcement raised the profile of the usually sleepy merit-retention elections and could send a signal to Republican voters who have long complained about what they perceive as liberal judges.

If the justices lose merit-retention elections, Republican Gov. Rick Scott would appoint replacements. Lewis and Pariente were appointed to the court by former Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, while Quince was a joint appointment by Chiles and former Republican Gov. Jeb Bush.

Campaign-finance records show that the justices have received most of their contributions from attorneys and law firms. Lewis has raised a total of $333,460, Pariente has raised $352,920, and Quince has raised $332,843 — with each reporting Friday they had slightly more than half of those amounts still on hand.

While the state GOP opposes their retention, the justices have received at least some support from well-known Republicans or conservatives. As an example, former Justice Raoul Cantero, a Bush appointee to court, has been a prominent supporter. As another example, Ballard Partners, a high-powered Republican lobbying firm, contributed $500 to each of the justices’ campaigns in June, the records show.

Before the Republican Party announcement Friday, an Orlando-based organization called Restore Justice, Inc., had been the primary voice of opposition to the justices. During the first half of the year, Restore Justice received almost all of its contributions from South Florida physician Allan Jacob, who chipped in $59,250, according to the group’s filings with the Internal Revenue Service.

In August, state records show, Restore Justice also filed in Florida as what is known as an “electioneering communications organization,” a type of group that can try to influence races by doing such things as running ads. The so-called ECO raised $1,075 between Aug. 13 and Sept. 14.

Justices must come up for merit-retention votes every six years, but the elections usually draw little attention. In 2006, Lewis, Pariente and Quince each received more than 67 percent of the vote.

But Florida conservatives could be trying to follow the lead of Iowa, where voters in 2010 removed three justices who had supported legalizing gay marriage in the state. An attempt is underway to try to oust another Iowa justice in November’s elections.

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.