Money flows into top legislative, court races

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Florida capitol building

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - With districts redrawn and qualifying over, new campaign-finance reports offer a roadmap for many of this year's top political races in Florida.

Large chunks of money flowed during the past three months to House, Senate and Supreme Court candidates who are trying to win high-profile campaigns or capture empty seats.

A prime example is former Senate President Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who collected $199,585 in contributions as he tries to return to the Senate in District 24. Lee's is locked in a primary campaign against Rep. Rachel Burgin, R-Riverview, as they seek to replace Sen. Ronda Storms, who made a surprise announcement in May that she would not seek re-election.

Burgin raised $50,248 during the year's second quarter and, combined with money she raised before Storms' announcement, has an overall total of $122,223. Candidates faced a Friday deadline for filing updated campaign-finance reports.

Among the largest House fund-raisers was Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart, a Ponte Vedra Beach Republican who is running in the newly drawn District 17 in St. Johns County. Renuart reported collecting $90,856 during the second quarter, giving him an overall total of $155,132 for the campaign.

St. Augustine Republican Mike Davis, who has received support from term-limited St. Augustine Rep. Bill Proctor, raised $32,526 during the quarter, increasing his total to $91,086. Another St. Augustine Republican, Kim Kendall, raised $6,050 during the quarter and has a total of $49,973.

The large infusions of campaign cash, however, went beyond the Legislature. Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente reported raising $157,957 during the quarter, giving her a total of $316,130. Similarly, Justice R. Fred Lewis reported collecting $141,372 during the quarter, giving him an overall total of $303,010.

Pariente, Lewis and Justice Peggy Quince are trying to win merit-retention elections this fall. While those elections typically receive little attention, some conservative groups are trying to knock off Lewis, Pariente and Quince because of complaints that they are too liberal. Quince's report had not been posted Friday afternoon.

The reports due Friday are the first batch since courts resolved questions about new legislative districts and candidates formally qualified. They also come as candidates ramp up their campaigns before the Aug. 12 primary elections.

Large amounts of money flowed to heavily contested races in both the House and the Senate.

In a hard-fought Senate District 22 primary in the Tampa Bay area, meanwhile, Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, raised $71,932 during the quarter, giving him an overall total of $246,696. Frishe faces Rep. Jeff Brandes, who earlier this week reported raising $68,450 during the second quarter. Brandes also has loaned $500,000 to his campaign.

Up the Interstate 4 corridor, Democratic Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando raised $62,736 during the quarter, giving him a total of $94,386 in his race for Senate District 14, which does not have an incumbent. Republican candidate Will McBride of Orlando reported raising $42,487 but also loaned his campaign $205,000.

Still further up I-4 in a key Senate battleground, Republican Rep. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, topped Democrat Frank Bruno in fund-raising in District 8. Hukill brought in $45,856 and increased her overall total to $278,010, according to the records. Bruno, chairman of the Volusia County Council, raised $30,405 during the quarter and has a total of $207,073.

But not all of the biggest recipients of contributions during the past three months face tough election fights. Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, does not have a Democratic opponent this year, but he received $160,090 during the quarter. That brought his overall total to $632,350.

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