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Tallahassee corporate interests pick up much of $3 million inaugural tab

TALLAHASSEE — Gov.-elect Rick Scott says he bought independence from special interests when he spent a record $73 million of his own money to get elected, but the $3 million inaugural bash he is throwing this week is being paid for by the same Tallahassee interest groups that have the most at stake in his administration.

Companies that want to influence the debate on Medicaid reform — from drug companies to HMO chains — were the largest donors, giving more than $800,000, according to initial estimates.

Real estate developers and investors, eager for fewer regulations and no growth management hurdles, contributed more than $275,000. Gambling interests — from the Seminole Tribe of Florida to the Las Vegas Sands, who are at opposite ends of a debate over expanding casino gambling in Florida — ponied up a total of $150,000.

Sixty eight companies and seven individuals wrote checks for $25,000, the maximum.

At least two contributors, Gary Morse, the chairman of The Villages retirement community in Central Florida, and Wayne Huizenga, the Broward waste management mogul, put in personal contributions along with $25,000 checks from their companies. And Florida Crystals, the sugar giant and agribusiness concern that wants to have a piece of the state's alternative energy pie, had four of its affiliates donate a total of $100,000 to the inaugural cause.

What do they get in return?

"They should expect a series of events intended to honor the people of this state in this period of a change in leadership in our state, and nothing more than that," said Erin Isaac, spokeswoman for Scott's inauguration.

But on Monday, many of the donors were included in four invitation-only inaugural events, from a morning breakfast tribute to women in leadership, to an evening candlelight dinner honoring about 120 "Friends of the Inauguration."

For many of the state's industries, accustomed to gaining access through campaign contributions, the request for donations from the state's 45th governor also allowed them to save face with Scott after contributing heavily to his Republican primary competitor, Bill McCollum.

For example, Rob Gidel, a member of McCollum's finance team, was an early donor to the inaugural with a $25,000 check from his Orlando-based investment company, Liberty Partners.

Green Solar Transportation, a little-known company based in Miramar, also wrote a $25,000 check. The company is led by a pair of South Florida doctors, Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass, who also gave $400,000 late in the primary to the campaign committee accounts headed by Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon as they made a last-minute push to help McCollum overtake Scott. In the general election, the company donated $100,000 to Scott.

Florida's utility giants also contributed heavily to the inaugural events. They want Scott to back their pro-nuclear power initiatives or, in the case of Florida Power & Light, their push for solar development.

While campaigning, Scott said he doesn't believe in climate change, and expressed skepticism about the value of investing in alternative energy. The utilities want him to reconsider in the name of job development.

Brian Ballard, the inaugural event's finance chairman, downplayed the impact of donations.

"There's no one I know who really believes contributing to an inauguration is a wise investment to buy you access," he said.

"Candidates and campaigns really appreciate and remember those folks who got behind their campaigns," he said. "It's not the same with inaugurals."

More than 200 contributions streamed in. It's an investment in history, said lobbyist Ron Book, whose clients donated.

"People who think they're going to get some special treatment are fooling themselves," he said, as he boarded a plane to attend a candlelight dinner for donors. "People contribute to the inauguration because they want to be part of the celebration."

Times/Herald staff writers Michael C. Bender and Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Tallahassee corporate interests pick up much of $3 million inaugural tab 01/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 4, 2011 4:07pm]
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