Sheriff Chris Nocco knows how to start a campaign.
It took him and an army of volunteers only a day to collect the necessary petition signatures to get on the ballot, a process that often takes weeks for other candidates. And on Tuesday he announced the largest fundraising haul of any local candidate.
His $103,000 in first-quarter contributions matches that of east Pasco commission candidate Ron Oakley. But Nocco raised the cash in three months, compared to Oakley's nine. And Oakley personally contributed about a third of his total.
Nocco's donations dwarf the campaign war chests of either the two Republican challengers or the leading Democrat in the race. On the GOP side, Maurice Radford has collected $11,500 and Roger Fortney has raised $13,600 (including $9,000 from himself). Democrat Kim Bogart, who narrowly lost the 2008 sheriff election, has raised $24,000.
About $15,000 of Nocco's haul comes from law enforcement officials. Half of that figure came in small donations of less than $100, with the rest coming from maximum $500 contributions.
And the money isn't stopping. Attorney General Pam Bondi is hosting a fundraiser tonight at Quail Hollow Country Club in Wesley Chapel, where $250 buys a ticket to a private reception.
Nocco, 36, was appointed sheriff by Gov. Rick Scott last April. He joined the Pasco Sheriff's Office in 2009 after four years as a top staffer in the Florida House and two years as chief of staff with the Florida Highway Patrol.
His political connections show up in his campaign contributions. More than $13,000 comes from groups with Tallahassee addresses. That includes donations from political committees controled by powerful legislators such as House Speaker Dean Cannon and Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Also on the list is powerful lobbyist Brian Ballard, whose firm employs Nocco's wife, Bridget Nocco, as a fundraiser. Several donations come from branches of the Police Benevolent Association, which represents Pasco's detention deputies.
Other well-known contributors include a U.S. Sugar-owned citrus company, Humana Inc., prison health care provider Armor Correctional Health Services, and former House Speaker Allan Bense of Panama City.
There are plenty of Pasco power brokers, too. Among those who gave the $500 max: developers Alex Deeb and Lew Friedland, former schools administrator Ray Gadd, the Lucas, Green and Magazine law firm, and state Senate candidate Wilton Simpson of Trilby.
Also on the list? Lonestar Strategies LLC, a consulting company formed by former Sheriff Bob White, whose retirement paved the way for Nocco to take over as sheriff.
Other local races:
• There's plenty of money in the District 1 County Commission race. Oakley, of Zephyrhills collected $27,000 in the first quarter, bringing his total to $103,000. He has given $35,000 to his campaign and has also spent $56,000, roughly half of which paid for two mailers widely distributed in the county.
Incumbent Ted Schrader raised $9,100 this quarter for a total of $43,000. Challenger Rachel O'Connor's $930 this quarter brings her total to nearly $4,000.
• The open District 3 commission race has attracted eight candidates, but none have raised more than $10,000. Several of the campaigns are largely self-funded.
• District 5 incumbent Jack Mariano raised $3,000 this quarter, giving him nearly $10,000. His two challengers reported low fundraising totals.
• Tax Collector Mike Olson raised $67,000, including a $50,000 check from himself. GOP challenger Ed Blommel pulled in $3,600 for a total just shy of $14,000.
• The District 11 state Senate seat is also shaping up as a big-money battle. Trilby egg farmer Wilton Simpson raised $29,000 for a total of $220,000. State Rep. John Legg of Port Richey raised $2,800, bringing his total to $146,000. As a sitting legislator, Legg was prohibited from fundraising during much of the quarter.
For a full list of county fundraising reports, go to tinyurl.com/PascoFundraising. For candidates for state office, go to tinyurl.com/StateCandidatesTBT and click on 2012 candidates.
Lee Logan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.