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Florida lawmakers make last-minute rush for campaign cash

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers rushed to pull in campaign checks from lobbyists before a deadline today turned off the spigot.

Fundraising is now prohibited until the session ends. But the demand for campaign contributions is stronger this year, because many lawmakers face winning over new voters due to redistricting.

All 160 legislative seats will be up for election.

"My door is always open, whether you give me a check or not," Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said on Monday.

Indeed, House Democrats gave lobbyists the convenience of one-stop donations to minority party members: an entire ballroom of the Doubletree Hotel in downtown Tallahassee.

Rep. Ron Saunders, the Key West Democrat who chairs the 39-member House Democratic caucus, held a manila envelope filled with checks that he distributed to members.

"We thought this would be an easier way to get everybody together in one place," Saunders said. Asked why business lobbyists would donate to Democrats when they often are in disagreement and Democrats have little influence over legislation, Saunders said: "For one thing, we've been supportive on some of their issues. But the other thing is, committee votes are not always partisan. I think they'd like to have a voice. What I tell people is, 'Contributions don't get you a vote. They get you an open door and an open mind.' "

Lobbyists bearing gifts came and went throughout the lunch hour at the Doubletree.

"I guess you would call it access, the ability to come and educate you on the issues," said Rep. Joe Gibbons, D-Hallandale Beach. "They would do it whether they gave you money or not, but I think they feel that since they have a relationship with you, that it would be easier to get to you."

Republicans lined up donations for their election efforts, including a reception for Senate candidates at the exclusive Governor's Club. Guy Jordan, state director of governmental relations for pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, said he had about five checks to drop off. He handed one to Rep. Jim Frishe, R-St. Petersburg, who is running for state Senate.

"We support candidates on both sides of the aisle that have a pro-business approach," Jordan said.

The state's beer distributors hosted a fundraiser for Rep. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican whose district has been a battleground. And the powerful nursing lobby also had a lunch fundraiser in its office for influential Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

"They've been good friends," noted Thrasher, "who by the way have taken significant funding cuts."

The public won't know how much was raised until lawmakers file finance reports due in April.

"The session is like Lent," said longtime lobbyist Bob Levy. "They all have to give up fundraising for the next 60 days."

Steve Bousquet and Tia Mitchell contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/DeCampTimes.

Florida lawmakers make last-minute rush for campaign cash 01/09/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 10, 2012 11:19am]
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