Florida GOP dominates chase for campaign cash

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - In an advantage that could ripple through races statewide, the Republican Party of Florida has raised nearly $14 million since Aug. 10 -- while the Florida Democratic Party has collected about $7.5 million, according to campaign-finance reports filed Friday.

The GOP, which totally controls state government, tapped major donors such as Florida Power & Light, which contributed $435,000, and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, which chipped in $425,000.

Democrats, meanwhile, received $535,000 from the Florida Education Association teachers union and $475,250 from Florida Justice PAC, a political offshoot of the Florida Justice Association trial-lawyers group.

The latest party totals, which covered the period from Aug. 10 until Thursday, widened a fund-raising gap that has been evident in campaigns across Florida. In all, the Republican Party has raised about $26 million this year, more than double the $10.8 million raised by Democrats.

That money provides a huge advantage, in part because it can be used to buy television ads and crank out mail pieces in competitive races. Also, the Republican Party has contributed tens of thousands of dollars directly to numerous legislative campaigns, including to some candidates and races that have drawn little attention or are not considered particularly competitive.

As examples, the party recently cut a $25,000 check to the campaign of Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, and $20,000 to the campaign of Rep. Tom Goodson, R-Cocoa. Those party contributions were more money than the candidates' Democratic opponents have raised during the entire campaign, according to newly filed records.

The Democratic Party also has given directly to some candidates. For instance, in recent days, it sent $26,500 to Frank Bruno, the party's candidate in the closely watched Senate District 8 race in Volusia, Marion and Lake counties.

The parties, candidates and political committees faced a Friday deadline for filing campaign-finance information, giving a final glimpse of how --- and where --- money is flowing before Tuesday's elections. Candidates and committees, which must disclose information more often than parties, provided reports detailing activity from Oct. 13 to Thursday.

While many candidates' reports had not been posted on the state Division of Elections website late Friday afternoon, documents showed that money has continued pouring into a group backing the retention of Supreme Court justices and other groups involved in constitutional-amendment campaigns.

A group called "Defend Justice from Politics,'' which is supporting the retention of Supreme Court justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy Quince, collected $1.77 million between Oct. 13 and Thursday, bringing its overall total to $3.22 million. Some conservative groups and the board of the state Republican Party have called for defeating the justices, which has led Defend Justice from Politics to fight back with campaign ads.

Meanwhile, a group called "Vote No on 6," which opposes the abortion-related Amendment 6 on Tuesday's ballot, reported raising $494,416 between Oct. 13 and Thursday, giving it an overall total of $3.63 million.

Similarly, a group known as "Taxpayers First," which is backed by the Florida Association of Realtors and supports Amendment 4 on the ballot, raised $429,525 during the period and reported an overall total of $4.7 million. Amendment 4 would place new limits on property taxes.

With many of the candidates' reports not yet online, it was difficult to draw conclusions about fund-raising during the final weeks in most of the state's biggest legislative races.

But in Senate District 8, Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, raised $63,475 for her battle against Bruno, the chairman of the Volusia County Council. Hukill reported an overall total for the campaign of $541,531. Bruno collected $46,550 during the most-recent period and had an overall total of $377,598.

Meanwhile, in a Palm Beach County Senate district, Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Royal Palm Beach, stepped up his fund-raising during the final weeks, bringing in $56,585. The District 25 race drew little attention for months, but Republicans have made noise recently about their candidate, Melanie Peterson, possibly being able to beat Abruzzo.

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said Friday he thinks Democrats took the race for granted. But he said Peterson, whose totals had not been posted online, has built a grass-roots campaign.

"Joe Abruzzo knows that he's got a campaign on his hands now,'' said Gaetz, who is spearheading Republican Senate campaigns.

Among House candidates, one of the top fund-raisers during the period appeared to be Rep. Keith Perry, a Gainesville Republican, who is trying to return to Tallahassee in a substantially redrawn district. Perry raised $48,920 during the period, giving him a total of $389,631. Updated totals for his Democratic opponent in District 21, Andrew Morey of Gainesville, were not immediately available.

Copyright 2012 by The News Service of Florida. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.