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Lawmakers are back in Tallahassee, so it's fundraising time

TALLAHASSEE

Willie Sutton robbed banks because "that's where the money is."

Sometimes it seems as if Florida legislators head back to the Capitol for committee meetings for the same reason.

A captive audience of lobbyists is simply too much for many lawmakers to resist. Here it is September, with the next election more than a year away, and fundraising is approaching a fever pitch, with a long list of $500-a-person "receptions" this week.

Taxpayers are paying for all 160 lawmakers to attend an abbreviated three-day "week" of House and Senate committee sessions. As the afternoons wind down, though, Adams Street teems with commerce — the political kind.

On Monday, Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich was joined by former USF president Betty Castor for Ruth's List, a group that supports Democratic women candidates.

On Tuesday at Clyde's & Costello's, money will flow like — well, beer. At least that's what Republican Sens. Charlie Dean of Inverness, Greg Evers of Baker and Rene Garcia of Hialeah hope, as the three hold a fundraiser there.

Also Tuesday, a "Women for Women" fundraiser at the Governor's Inn features four Democratic senators: Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Eleanor Sobel of Hollywood, Gwen Margolis of Aventura and Maria Sachs of Delray Beach. And fundraisers for two House Republicans running for Senate seats: John Legg of Port Richey and Kelli Stargel of Lakeland.

Three House Democrats — Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, Ron Saunders of Key West and Alan Williams of Tallahassee — will hold an event in the Governor's Club Library.

There are reasons for the fundraising frenzy, and it all comes down to reapportionment, the once-a-decade redrawing of districts.

Lawmakers are prohibited from soliciting or accepting contributions during the regular session. That usually occurs in March, but under the state Constitution, the session in reapportionment years begins two months sooner, Jan. 10, 2012.

Redistricting also means incumbents will have different constituents to reach — and that costs money.

"There's an intensity to get it done before the session begins," Rich said. "It's a little overwhelming."

Said Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican and the incoming Senate president: "We're trying to be mindful of this compressed schedule and get more done sooner."

Gaetz says the competition for political dollars is intensified because so many presidential candidates sweep into the Sunshine State.

"When presidential candidates come to town, they bring a very big, strong vacuum cleaner and suck up millions of dollars," Gaetz said. "There's a sense that those of us who are local or state candidates need to get out ahead of the vacuum cleaner."

On that long list of events, there's no sign of Rep. Ed Hooper, a Clearwater Republican who's seeking re-election.

"I'm just not interested in holding any fundraisers when I'm in Tallahassee. It's a necessary evil," Hooper said. "I'm not saying it's wrong."

"Some people love it," Hooper added. Then, paraphrasing the line long attributed to the bank robber Willie Sutton, he said: "You're up here, where the money is."

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Lawmakers are back in Tallahassee, so it's fundraising time 09/19/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 20, 2011 1:46am]
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