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Democratic challenger criticizes Schenck's outside contributions

State Rep. Robert Schenck's campaign war chest is overflowing with cash but few of the dollars are coming from his people in his own district.

The Spring Hill Republican collected $9 out of every $10 from outside Hernando County, according to a St. Petersburg Times analysis of the latest campaign finance reports filed Friday.

The bulk is arriving in maximum $500 checks from Tallahassee, the state headquarters for lobbyists, consultants and political committees.

These groups, whether from Florida or elsewhere, account for nearly half of the $180,126 Schenck raised through Sept. 26 when the reporting period ended, the analysis showed.

The cash is fueling the first-term lawmaker's re-election campaign, but it could prove a liability.

Democratic challenger Jason Melton is making it an issue.

"I am not a corporate candidate," he said in an interview.

"I don't have problems with companies being involved in campaigns," Melton continued. "But what I do have a problem with is a company that has nothing to do with the district or the candidate" giving so much.

Melton is getting a late start after replacing the previous Democratic candidate on Sept. 25. His campaign finance reports, filed the next day, show only a personal $5,000 loan.

But he expects to spend more of his own money — he wouldn't say how much — and scheduled two fundraisers in coming weeks, including a $10 per person event Friday at Hernando County Democratic headquarters in Brooksville.

Melton said his campaign would focus on the economy, and he doesn't need any money to get across a message about its demise; it's readily apparent.

"Would I like to have a lot of money in this election? Sure, I would," he said. "If I had support from companies all across the state and not in Hernando ... this would be easy."

Schenck called Melton's comments "typical political rhetoric."

"I've just had success in raising money," he explained. "It doesn't do ... a thing in how you vote or represent the people who put you there."

The former Hernando County commissioner raised $18,900 from his home turf. Schenck, who is sitting on $93,200 in unspent donations, initially said he didn't ask for local money in District 44, which covers most of Hernando County and parts of Pasco and Sumter counties.

But then he acknowledged holding two small fundraisers in the community and writing about 50 letters asking for donations.

"With the economy the way it is and the type of community the way it is, there's not a reason to ask people to raise money locally," he said.

Political committees — as far ranging as horse racing and dental associations — gave him $53,550. This accounted for 30 percent of his total contributions, the analysis showed.

Lobbyists and government consultants chipped in another $13,928. The state Republican Party provided $17,248 more, a possible indication about how close this race is expected to end.

Schenck, who won by 1,000 votes in 2006, so far spent $86,929.

Most of it — $71,185, or 82 percent — paid the cost of campaign mailings. Another $10,500 covered consulting fees to Sunrise Consulting, a political strategy firm based in Trinity.

Melton specifically noted a $300 donation Schenck received on Sept. 24 from ExxonMobil, the oil company that posted record-breaking profits in recent years.

Schenck said he didn't even know about the money. "Lots of times I don't even see the checks," he said.

Melton said he is less interested in receiving contributions from companies than in getting pledges from people to help the Hernando economy, which is suffering from 9 percent unemployment, the seventh highest rate in Florida.

In light of the jobless figures, Melton said that when taking contributions, he asks donors, "What are you going to do for my district?"

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6114.

>>Fast facts

Robert Schenck's campaign contributions

Robert Schenck hauled in $180,126 in campaign contributions through Sept. 26, according to the latest reports. Here's where it came from (figures have been rounded):

Geography

Outside Florida $15,200, 8 percent (including $18,900 from Brooksville)

Florida $164,927, 92 percent

Groups

Political committees $53,550, 30 percent

State Republican Party $17,248, 10 percent

Lobbying and government consulting firms $13,929, 8 percent

Other professions and businesses $95,400, 52 percent

Democratic challenger criticizes Schenck's outside contributions 10/07/08 [Last modified: Thursday, October 9, 2008 6:05pm]
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