Responding to an election field upended by redistricting, Florida corporations and interest-groups are flooding a record amount of cash into legislative races that will help finance a blizzard of ads and fliers during the coming months.
With all 160 House and Senate seats up for election, the stakes are as big as the dollars.
In 2010, corporate groups such as the Florida Chamber helped elect business-friendly Republican super-majorities to the House and Senate, which set off a "business-friendly" policymaking binge -- gutting Florida's growth laws, repealing hundreds of safety and environmental regulations, and cutting corporate taxes.
Business groups hope to preserve as much of that clout as possible, despite new redistricting maps that theoretically make legislative districts more competitive for Democrats. Despite those maps, though, cash is king in modern electoral warfare.
And new reports filed late Friday detail the millions of dollars flowing into the coffers of candidates -- mostly Republicans -- and slush-funds they control.
Gov. Rick Scott -- who won't even be on the ballot until 2014 -- led the way, garnering just over $2.8 million over the last three months and nearly $3.8 million total this year. The biggest checks: $250,000 each from Florida Power & Light, which is pushing to dominate the state's renewable energy market; Las Vegas Sands Chief Executive Sheldon Adelson, whose company wants to build "destination" casinos in South Florida; and former Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga.
"There is no question that the governor will face an unprecedented barrage that will be extremely well funded by the national Democrats, labor unions and liberal groups across the country," said John French, the elections lawyer and chairman of the governor's committee. "And we have every intention of being prepared and able to assist the governor to meet that challenge."
GOP lawmakers aren't far behind Scott's torrid pace.
Future House Speaker Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, and Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, raised $225,000 during the past three months through a fund called Citizens for an Enterprising Democracy, which has raised a total of $810,000. The money pays for meals, travel, political consulting and other expenses the lawmakers rack up campaigning. More than half the quarter's take came from Walt Disney, but Broward-based drug software maker Automated Health Care Solutions, pari-mutuels and health-insurers also chipped in.
"Our goal is to bring back as many pro-business, free-market Republicans as we can," Dorworth said.
Just since the end of the legislative session in March, Democratic and Republican candidates for House and Senate seats have created two dozen new committees for either bypassing the $500 campaign-contribution limits, or channeling big dollars into political ads. Those new funds raised $1.25 million from companies including Malaysian gaming giant Genting, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, U.S. Sugar Corp., and others.
Some of the largest sums are being funneled through the Republican Party of Florida. However, neither RPOF nor its Democratic counterpart has to report contributions until four days before the Aug. 14 primary elections.
But the size of the RPOF war chest is indicated by the $1.75 million the party gave a committee called the Florida Conservative Majority, headed by incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando. Its other major donor was the Florida Medical Association, which gave $100,000.
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