State Rep. Peter Nehr has raised more than five times as much money as his Democratic opponent for the upcoming Nov. 2 showdown for the state House District 48 seat.
Challenger Tom McKone, D-East Lake, says the money is a sign that Nehr, R-Palm Harbor, who is seeking a third term, is beholden to special interest groups.
"He does have a lot of money from special interest groups in Tallahassee," said McKone, 59, a member of the East Lake Fire District Commission. "I'm relying on friends in the district."
But Nehr, 58, shrugs off the claim, saying that it takes money to run an effective campaign. He said he is open to all good ideas, no matter the origin.
"The lobbyists give me money," Nehr said. "The four years I've been in the Legislature, I've had an open-door policy. I listen to both sides of the issues and make a final vote based on what's good for the citizens of Florida.
"I received money from utility companies, and I still proposed legislation that would have forced them to reduce utility rates."
House District 48 includes northern Pinellas County and a small portion of Pasco County.
According to campaign financial reports submitted to the state Division of Elections, Nehr has raised $140,357.08 while McKone has raised $23,534.41.
Nehr, who had two challengers in a Republican primary last month, has spent $93,508.85. McKone had no primary challenger and has spent $16,455.43.
Without more fundraising, that leaves Nehr with $46,848.23 and McKone with $7,078.98 heading into the final six weeks before the Nov. 2 election.
Nehr has loads of $500 contributions with many of them coming from Tallahassee groups such as Council of Florida Family Practice, Florida Association of Behavior Analysis and the Osteopathic Medical Association.
McKone has about a dozen $500 contributions. Several of them have come from union groups such as the Iron Workers Local 397 and the International Union of Operating Engineers.
"He says he's against oil drilling, then he goes and takes money from the oil companies," McKone said.
Money and incumbency usually add up to victory.
"When you combine money and incumbency, the duel advantage, you are all but undefeatable," said Denise Roth Barber, research director for the National Institute on Money in State Politics.
The institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that studies the influence of campaign money on state-level elections and public policy in all 50 states.
In a study that it released in May, the institute found that in the 2007 and 2008 legislative elections, candidates without the incumbency or fundraising advantages had a win rate of just 8 percent.
In Florida, 100 of 101 incumbents who ran, won, for a success rate of 99 percent, the study found. Candidates with the fundraising advantage won 92 percent of the time.
Incumbents were top fundraisers 92 percent of the time, the study found, and everyone with the dual advantage won.
Barber said it was "shocking to have the data show so strongly" the importance of money and incumbency.
"When you ask someone to donate," Barber said, "they are now invested in you and go to the polls fairly committed to you."
Contact Demorris A. Lee at email@example.com or (727) 445-4174