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Rick Scott, Charlie Crist using Florida State football game to raise campaign cash

TALLAHASSEE — For Gov. Rick Scott and his leading rival, former Gov. Charlie Crist, a trip to California today is not only about cheering on Florida State University in its national football championship game with Auburn.

Both men also will be collecting campaign money for their own future competition:

• Scott in a luxury suite at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena with well-heeled Republicans.

• Crist at a luncheon in Los Angeles hosted by a Hollywood executive who was a bundler of campaign money for President Barack Obama.

It's another sign of how the 2014 contest for governor of Florida will be a marquee national race with millions pouring in from all over the country.

Scott and first lady Ann Scott will host a $50,000 per couple fundraiser before tonight's kickoff.

Crist will be the guest of honor at a Tuesday event hosted by entertainment industry executives including Ken Solomon, founder of the Tennis Channel.

"I wouldn't miss it for the world," Crist, a 1978 FSU graduate, said of the title game. "I think we're going to win."

In a friendly wager with Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, Scott will send a key lime pie from Kermit's in Key West if FSU loses, and Bentley will send a gallon of Toomer's lemonade if FSU wins.

"I look forward to an exciting game and some ice cold lemonade from Toomer's. Go Noles," Scott said.

Scott also was expected to join House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and his likely successor, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, at a $25,000-a-head Rose Bowl luncheon to bolster the upcoming campaigns of House Republicans.

About a dozen other legislators, most with old-school ties to FSU, will attend the game at their own expense. A week of legislative meetings in Tallahassee won't get under way until Tuesday afternoon to accommodate the cross-country travel.

Their unofficial leader is Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, chairman of the Legislature's 38-member "Seminole Caucus."

"My family is a 40-year booster. We buy tickets every year," said Patronis, who paid $385 each for two tickets.

Florida lawmakers are prohibited from accepting anything of value (other than campaign money) from lobbyists or their clients, and FSU, like every other state university, employs lobbyists in Tallahassee.

FSU's chief Capitol lobbyist, Kathleen Daly, said the school did not offer to help elected officials acquire tickets.

"They all made their own arrangements, as did the governor," Daly said.

Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, a 1978 FSU grad, will take his two children, Austin, 26, and Ansley, 28, (both FSU graduates) with him. It was a Christmas gift for his kids that cost about $3,600, and he said points earned from American Express will defray most of the travel costs.

A longtime donor to FSU, Boyd said he got the tickets (for about $385 each) through the school's booster organization. He made the request for the tickets before Thanksgiving, he said.

"This had nothing to do with being a lawmaker," Boyd said.

Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, said he paid $350 for his ticket. "It was more difficult to get a flight than it was to get a ticket," he said.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, graduated from FSU in 2003 and is going with his girlfriend. He estimated his costs at more than $4,000, but said it's worth it.

"Hey, it's a chance to witness history," Gaetz said.

Weatherford, whose brother Drew is a former FSU quarterback, and whose father-in-law, former Speaker Allan Bense, chairs FSU's board of trustees, will go on the tab of the Republican Party of Florida.

"I have no idea how much the ticket costs," Weatherford said. "When we do an event with the Republican Party, they pick up the costs. … Whatever we do, it will certainly be in line with the law."

The timing of the game is unfortunate for the Legislature's sole Auburn alumnus. Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa (Auburn class of 2006), paid about $400 each for his two tickets.

But he had to give the tickets back when he learned he couldn't make the trip because of a meeting of the House Education Committee at 1 p.m. Tuesday called by Rep. H. Marlene O'Toole, R-Lady Lake, the chairwoman.

"I wasn't thrilled, to say the least," Grant said.

"I'll probably live the rest of my life and not see Auburn play another bowl game in the Rose Bowl. I'm hoping we move three bills in that committee to make it worth it, but I don't think she (O'Toole) thought about it," he said.

Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

Rick Scott, Charlie Crist using Florida State football game to raise campaign cash 01/03/14 [Last modified: Sunday, January 5, 2014 10:33pm]

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