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Campaign cash flow a trickle

Maybe people are still feeling an economic pinch. Or perhaps too many deep-pocketed developers have faded away.

Whatever the case, the flow of money into County Commission campaigns is slowing. This year is shaping up as one of the toughest fund-raising years in recent history.

"It was already tightening up two years ago, and it's much tighter now," said Property Appraiser Ted Williams.

With $34,000 in contributions to date, commissionchallenger Michael Cox, a Democrat, is leading the fund-raising pack this year. "Everyone tells me that in the past, the money just flowed in. You really have to work for it now," he said.

He has raised nearly twice as much as his opponent, incumbent Ed Collins, though most of that went toward his primary campaign. Collins did not have to spend any money fighting a primary because he drew no Republican opposition.

Still, with less than $18,000 raised through Oct. 14, Collins is a good example of how donations to commission incumbents are on the decline. Two years ago, Ann Hildebrand raised nearly $29,000 for her primary campaign and Sylvia Young more than $42,000 for her primary and general election campaigns. Two years before that, the incumbents raised close to $70,000 each.

Veteran politicos say the size of Collins' campaign kitty is probably more of a reflection on political fund-raising these days than of Collins' popularity.

To see that well-funded campaigns are anything but dead, one only need note state House candidate Marcelino Oliva's nearly $122,000 campaign war chest. But legislative races are different. In those races, especially for open seats or incumbents, interests outside the county usually give generously.

Even in the boom times, Pasco always has been a poor county for fund-raising, Williams said. Where candidates in Hillsborough or Pinellas can look to corporations for money, Pasco mainly had builders.

"A person in Pinellas and Hillsborough can have one appreciation dinner and leave with enough money to pay for the whole campaign," Williams said. "In Pasco you have one appreciation dinner and you leave with hopefully enough to pay for the dinner."

Among local races, County Commission seats traditionally have drawn the most big donations. That, by all accounts, is because commission decisions can have more direct impact on developers and other businesspeople than, say, the School Board or supervisor of elections.

But the building boom has ebbed. Local developers with names like Minieri, Boyce and Hoeldtke are gone, largely replaced by non-local developers, political watchers noted. With them went a big source of campaign contributions for commissioners. Besides, growth management laws give commissioners less flexibility in making decisions.

No doubt, money is crucial for candidates to get their messages and names out to voters. But contrary to cynical wisdom, money does not necessarily buy elections.

Consider four years ago, when donations still were flowing freely. Commissioner Sonny Safranek spent nearly $69,000 on his re-election campaign, outspending challenger Ed Collins more than 6-to-1.

Who won? Ed Collins.

FUND-RAISING '94

Here are fund-raising tallies through Oct. 14 for local candidates. (Asterisk denotes candidates who had no opposition in primary election.)

COUNTY COMMISSION

District 4

Michael Cox (D): $34,000

Ed Collins (R)+: $17,389

District 2

Pat Mulieri (R): $15,127

Betty Thompson (D): $21,493

SCHOOL BOARD

District 5

Craig McCart (D)+: $3,625

Kathleen Wolf (R)+: $3,200

District 3

Finley Gable (R)+: $6,507

Dorothy Mitchell (D)+: $23,375

STATE HOUSE

District 46

Bill Phillips (R): $52,926

Debra Prewitt (D): $17,837

Joe Mastrocolo (I)+: $2,075

District 45

Michael Fasano (R): $17,615

Marcelino Oliva (D)+: $121,744

District 61

Candy Vandercar (D)+: $23,660

Carl Littlefield (R)+: $71,749

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