Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Politics

Re-elected without opposition, some state lawmakers have campaign war chests to spend

TALLAHASSEE — Re-elected without opposition this summer, Rep. Dana Young had the strange but fortunate problem of having $200,000 in her campaign bank account and nothing to spend it on.

By law, Young couldn't keep the money for herself or hold onto it for her next campaign.

So instead she did the next best thing — cutting two checks to the Republican Party of Florida totaling about $150,000.

Young, a Tampa Republican, is one of about 50 lawmakers who — with no rival to bury in signs or television ads — poured their leftover political donations this year into the coffers of political parties and committees affiliated with the state's most powerful lawmakers. The GOP-led Legislature in 2011 lifted a $10,000 cap on political contributions for excess campaign money, making the transactions possible.

Under state law, candidates can steer that money to political parties, to charity or return it to their donors. They also can steer money to their state office accounts, or if they're feeling generous, donate the money to the state treasury.

In years past, lawmakers used nearly all of the money — which comes from lobbyists and private donors — to contribute to their favorite charities.

But this year the Republican Party of Florida banked nearly $1 million in donations from unopposed candidates. Few Democrats ran unopposed, and the few who did donated little to their party.

"I am conservative, and I think it's important to have conservatives at the state level in office," said Young, who also donated $20,000 to charities and set aside $10,000 for state office expenses

The shift to pouring hefty checks into party political funds comes as incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker-designate Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, discuss the need for stricter campaign finance rules.

Critics say rules for leftover campaign money is one area where the rules need tightening, but Weatherford, who gave $100,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, says that's not the case.

The parties operate with good transparency, he said. "This is a way to help the cause," he added.

But Ben Wilcox of Integrity Florida, a group advocating for tougher ethics laws, said big transfers of money result in a perception — if not a reality — that lawmakers use contributions to snag committee chairmanships or positions of power.

Young was named House deputy majority leader and majority whip on Wednesday.

Funneling money to the state parties can also serve as a way around state laws, which say a candidate cannot roll over unused contributions to their next election, Wilcox said.

"It's entirely conceivable that party donations are earmarked for the next election," Wilcox said. "(Lawmakers) are making use of a loophole they created."

Besides his contribution to the state party, Weatherford peeled off about $50,000 to charities such as Big Brothers Big Sisters of Florida and Pasco County Take Stock in Children, where he serves as a mentor for under-privileged kids.

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, wrote a $40,000 check to the Republican Party of Florida and another $2,000 to the Republican Party of Miami-Dade.

Flores set aside nearly $20,000 to supplement the $9,400 per year the state pays for office supplies. She also gave $1,000 to Florida Right to Life and $30,000 to various other charities.

Sen. Charlie Dean, R-Inverness, who gave $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, also gave $1,500 to the Down Syndrome Association because the child of his former aide has Down syndrome, he said.

Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, who gave $30,000 to the state and local Republican parties, said she fell in love with the developmentally delayed adults who put on a yearly show at the Venice Theatre. She gave $5,000 to help the group build a new facility.

Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, donated $17,000 to the state GOP, but he also gave roughly $40,000 to various South Florida charities. Among his contributions was a $1,500 donation to Safe Haven for Newborns, which he says he helped start.

"I believe in helping," he said. "The party will get money elsewhere."

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at 850-323-0353 or [email protected]

Comments
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Updated: 26 minutes ago
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18
Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

Hillsborough candidate falsified contract for fund-raising gospel concert, lawsuit says

TAMPA — A concert organizer is accusing Hillsborough County Commission candidate Elvis Piggott of falsifying a contract and prompting the headline act to pull out of a gospel show.In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court, Corey Curry claims h...
Published: 05/18/18
Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

Gina Haspel confirmed as CIA chief despite scrutiny of her role in interrogation program

WASHINGTON - The Senate voted Thursday to confirm Gina Haspel as the next CIA director after several Democrats were persuaded to support her despite lingering concerns about her role in the brutal interrogation of suspected terrorists captured after ...
Published: 05/17/18
GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

GOP pushes for speedy confirmation vote for CIA nominee

WASHINGTON — Republicans are pushing for a speedy confirmation vote as early as Thursday after the Senate intelligence committee endorsed President Donald Trump’s CIA nominee Gina Haspel to lead the spy agency. But opponents concerned about Haspel’s ...
Published: 05/16/18
Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick to lead CIA, wins support of Senate Intelligence Committee

WASHINGTON - The Senate Intelligence Committee moved Wednesday to recommend Gina Haspel for CIA director, setting up a floor vote that her opponents say will signal to the world whether the United States condemns or condones torture.The committee vot...
Published: 05/16/18
Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

Carlton: Time for Hillsborough’s Uncle Tom Road to go — but artfully.

In Hillsborough County — where one of the world’s largest Confederate flags still flies near a busy interstate — you may not be surprised to learn there’s an Uncle Tom Road.The name is a flash point and a slur, shorthand for a black person who will d...
Published: 05/16/18