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GOP war chests swell in County Commission, House races

RIVERVIEW — As the Nov. 4 election nears, candidates vying for votes in eastern Hillsborough County have also been busy collecting for their campaign coffers.

Some of those hoping to become county commissioner for District 4 or state representative for District 56 have fatter purses than others.

For these two major races, the scenario is the same: Republican candidates have raised thousands more than their challengers.

Republican Al Higginbotham, hoping to retain his County Commission seat, has raked in $141,000, according to county records. That's about $137,000 more than his Democratic challenger, Pete Gifford.

On Higginbotham's donors list are contributors representing a slew of special-interest groups, including development, agriculture business and real estate. Backing him are fertilizer giant the Mosaic Co., the Florida Phosphate Committee of Continuous Existence, Tomatoes of Ruskin, and political action committees representing Tampa Electric, Business United for Good Government, and Realtors.

Higginbotham said the contributions reflect the broad spectrum of people who want to help his campaign, and that he's honored by the support. It's not just about money, he said, noting that hundreds of volunteers have waved signs and stood on street corners.

While money plays a big part in a campaign's success, he insists that donations won't influence his commission votes.

"I tell people to look at my voting record," Higginbotham said, noting the 2007 drive to eliminate wetlands regulation in the county. "While Mosaic preferred to see the wetlands go away, I didn't support it. I was one of three commissioners who didn't vote to close the wetlands."

Gifford doesn't buy that. The Riverview resident, who is 36, said contributions like those to Higginbotham's campaign are a big problem. Gifford raised $4,300 — half of that came from his own pocket — which was enough to buy signs and print campaign literature.

The rest of the donations to the no-party affiliate's campaign came from one developer, a few business owners and retirees.

"Look at who he's getting his money from," Gifford said of Higginbotham. "Then you can see who he's truly going to be looking out for."

As for the House race, Republican newcomer Rachel Burgin has outraised her Democratic opponent, Lewis Laricchia, by about $77,000.

Burgin, 26, jumped into the race after Republican incumbent Trey Traviesa dropped out at the last minute. She has nearly $80,000 in campaign contributions, records show.

Like Higginbotham, her list of donors includes special interests. They include the Florida Gulf Coast Chapter Association of Builders, Hillsborough County Agricultural Political Action Committee, and the Mortgage Bankers of Florida PAC.

Burgin said that if she ends up in office, there's no way she'll be swayed by the interests of donors to her campaign.

"Basically, when they give you contributions, they are saying they're in support and there are people (in) our district they represent," she said. "They send you (to Tallahassee) knowing that you're going to vote against them sometimes."

Laricchia, 59, of Valrico, has almost $3,000 in contributions. Like Gifford, most of that came from his own pocket. He could not be reached for comment.

Chandra Broadwater can be reached at cbroadwater@sptimes.com, or 661-2454.

Who gave what

District 4 County

Commission race

Al Higginbotham

$500 Phantom Fireworks of Tampa

$500 Hillsborough

Firefighters PAC

$500 Tampa Bay

Lightning

(venue and food for event)

Pete Gifford

$50 Frank Vanek,

contractor

$2,000 Pete

Gifford

District 56 House race

Rachel Burgin

$500 Florida

Property and Casualty Association

$500 Florida Beer Wholesalers

$500 Devco

Development

Lewis Laricchia

$2,052 Lewis

Laricchia

To see all donations, go to www.votehillsborough.org and click on "Candidate Information."

GOP war chests swell in County Commission, House races 10/16/08 [Last modified: Friday, October 17, 2008 6:08pm]
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