Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Big money pouring in for Pinellas campaigns

Expect to get inundated with campaign ads soon.

Six months out from the Nov. 4 general election, fundraising has amped up in several high-profile Pinellas races.

The pro-transit tax group Friends of Greenlight has raised nearly $500,000, a number that campaign manager Joe Farrell says reflects community support for light rail and an expansion of the bus system.

"It's a little more than where we expected to be at this point. We're very pleased with the outpouring of support," Farrell said.

The group raised most of that ($427,390) last month, according to its latest finance report that was due Monday.

Most contributions came from big name organizations, including $245,000 from the National Association of Realtors, $25,000 from the Tampa Bay Rays, $25,000 from BayCare Health System and $50,000 from Raymond James.

Barb Haselden, campaign manager and spokeswoman of No Tax for Tracks — which opposes the proposed 1-cent sales tax hike to pay for more bus service and light rail — said she expected to be outspent. No Tax's $30,131 in funds (including $4,735 last month) came from people living in the community, not corporations, she said.

"Theirs is the people who might make money off of Greenlight Pinellas," she said. "Ours is all private, personal money that voters are putting up."

Strangers have been calling her for buttons and yard signs, part of Haselden's grass roots strategy for getting out the message. No Tax also purchased a billboard on a 45-foot sailboat that residents will see throughout the summer, she said.

Friends of Greenlight said it hasn't ruled out any strategy, but will be sending out mailers, considering television spots, knocking on doors, and holding rallies.

"We're going to do it all," Farrell said. "There are many ways to contact voters and we need to contact every single one of them we can."

Meanwhile, Pinellas Commissioner Norm Roche's opponents are heading into the race very well funded.

The Republican raised $325 in April, putting his total fundraising at $9,105, an amount dwarfed by his challengers' coffers.

State Rep. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, has raised $110,790 for his primary bid against Roche in August. Hooper wasn't allowed to accept contributions in April or most of March because of the active legislative session. "I kept turning money back," he said.

Meanwhile, Largo Mayor Patricia Gerard, a Democrat, raised $15,120 in April to bring her fundraising total to $80,702. She pointed out that Hooper's donors were largely Tallahassee lobbyists, while her money came from Pinellas. Hooper countered that he has been up in Tallahassee and would have been a fool to turn money away; but now that he's back in Pinellas, he'll focus on raising funds locally.

Roche did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

Both Hooper and Gerard acknowledged the challenge of reaching 623,000 voters across the large county. Hooper said he hasn't ruled out television spots, while both candidates plan to focus on mailers.

"You start buying 49-cent stamps," Hooper said, "and it doesn't take long to spend 50 grand."

Contact Lisa Gartner at [email protected] You can follow her on Twitter @lisagartner.

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