WASHINGTON — Alex Sink's toughest line of attack against her Republican rival in the Congressional District 13 special election is that he's a lobbyist. But she has no problem fueling her own political career with tens of thousands of dollars from the influence industry.
During Monday's debate, Republican David Jolly tried to call her out for hypocrisy:
"Would you pledge tonight to return every dollar that you have received from a federal lobbyist or special interest? You have bankrolled your political career raising money from lobbyists. Are you prepared to give that back? And are you prepared to have our debate on Wednesday, as scheduled, as opposed to going to Washington, D.C., for fundraising?"
Sink never answered as a debate moderator signaled it was time to move on. "Yeah, what?" said a relieved-looking Sink.
Of course Sink's not going to give back the money, which helped swell her coffers in a 2006 run for Florida's chief financial officer, her 2010 bid for governor (when she raised $17.5 million) and now as she attempts to turn the long-held GOP district blue.
Sink did skip a would-be Tiger Bay debate Wednesday for a pair of fundraisers in Washington, where she no doubt encountered lobbyists doing the same sort of thing Jolly used to do — giving checks to Democrats and Republicans.
A quick spin through Sink's current fundraising reports shows money from lobbying shops ($3,000 alone from Holland & Knight employees) and special interests, ranging from Florida Crystals to the St. Pete Kennel Club.
There's a key distinction to Sink's attack on Jolly. He was a lobbyist and actively worked on behalf of special interests, including the conservative group Free Enterprise Nation, that raised questions about oil drilling and other sensitive issues.
But Sink's prolific money-gathering shows the faults in her campaign's attempt to paint Jolly, who embarked on a lobbying career after working as a staffer to the late Rep. C.W. Bill Young, as a sleazy Washington operator.
"That fact that someone played the Washington game, going through the revolving door, that's fair game," said Meredith McGehee, policy director at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. "But it is notable that his opponent is pretty much dependent on the same group of people. It's all the same cesspool. It's just about how far up to your neck are you in it?"
So how would Sink have answered Monday?
The Tampa Bay Times posed the question to her campaign Wednesday. A spokeswoman did not address Jolly's statement, but called him a "hired gun who has spent his career in D.C. putting special interests over Pinellas families."
"Now Washington lobbyist Jolly is even raising money from Rick Scott," campaign spokeswoman Ashley Walker said, referring to a Tallahassee fundraiser Jolly attended Wednesday.
So while Jolly raised special interest money in Tallahassee, Sink did the same in Washington. And her campaign won't address her own ties to lobbyists and their money.
Next week Sink will get a hand from Vice President Joe Biden at a fundraiser in Coral Gables. Among the hosts: Chris Korge, who has made a buck or two as a lobbyist.
"I wonder how many lobbyists will be there and solicited for a contribution and how many conversations will be had about the priorities of President (Barack) Obama and Nancy Pelosi over the communities of Pinellas County," said Jolly campaign spokeswoman Sarah Bascom. "The hypocrisy of the Sink campaign is truly astounding."
Contact Alex Leary at [email protected]