TALLAHASSEE — Mingling money, politics and legislation is nothing new in Tallahassee, but an email leaked last week provides a glimpse at just how much pressure Republican lawmakers are under to maintain their dominance in campaign fundraising.
Rep. Steve Crisafulli of Merritt Island, who as incoming speaker for 2015-2016 oversees all Republican House races, scolded members for falling behind the pace of Democratic candidates.
"This is a trend that must be broken!" Crisafulli wrote in bold and underline before reminding Republicans that half of them had fallen short of a fundraising goal set earlier by the caucus. "Like you, I recognize fundraising is a commitment of time we would rather spend in other ways, but given the tough election year ahead, we MUST redouble our efforts so that everyone has the financial resources for victory."
With a 75-45 majority, Republicans are clearly in charge of the House. And collectively, GOP House incumbents raised $1.5 million between July 1 and Sept. 30, or $188,000 more than they raised during the same period two years ago, the last non-election year.
Additionally, they averaged $24,434 for the third quarter, dwarfing the $9,666 average raised by the 38 House Democrats seeking re-election.
So what has Crisafulli so concerned? The pace.
While Republicans increased their haul by a robust 13.6 percent from two years ago, House Democrats ramped up their take by more than 1,000 percent. Two years ago, these same House Democrats raised a paltry $4,133 per member during the third quarter, a fifth of what Republicans raised. Democrats still lag, but now are at about a third of what Republicans raised.
"Our members are taking the election cycle seriously," said Rep. Mark Pafford of West Palm Beach, the incoming House Democratic leader. "We have a wonderful opportunity ahead of us if we elect a Democratic governor. If Speaker-designate Crisafulli says so, my guess would be that we're doing pretty well."
In his email, Crisafulli attached a spreadsheet of the 64 Republicans who are seeking re-election, ordering them based on how much they raised in the third quarter, from highest to lowest, so lawmakers could easily keep score with each other.
At the bottom of the list, having raised $0, was Rep. Matt Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach. He was busy raising $121,000 for a Senate race — in 2016. Still, Gaetz said he felt bad.
"I wrote an apology," Gaetz said. "I deserved to be singled out. I haven't done my part in raising money."
Starting Nov. 1, campaign contribution limits increased from $500 to $1,000, giving lawmakers a reason to call those who have already contributed and ask for more money.
Legislators are meeting this week in Tallahassee to consider bills and policy. Unlike during the session that begins in March, they can hold fundraisers. This week, at least 37 lawmakers will benefit from 14 fundraisers held throughout Tallahassee.
Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, raised $5,000 in the third quarter (which was actually $500 more than the same period two years ago), which tied him for third worst. He's slated to attend a fundraiser tonight at the Governor's Club with Crisafulli.
"I'm not the kind of guy to pick up the phone and ask you for money 50 times," Tobia said. "But I appreciate the encouragement from Crisafulli. Ultimately, campaigns come down to hard work. When you have a good message, money is not necessary."
Perhaps, but Crisafulli's email might be heralding a new era.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, who directed Republican House races two years ago, said the districts are more competitive since he helped redraw them after the 2010 Census. Republicans no longer have the luxury of easy money flowing in, he said.
"If I was a member, I would pay attention to that letter," Weatherford said. "The message is 'Don't sit around and wait to raise money.' I don't think there's anything wrong with sending out a message like that. It's about motivation."
Contact Michael Van Sickler at (850) 224-7263 or firstname.lastname@example.org.