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Amid lawmaking, fund raising

Officially, everybody says there are no politics in the state Capitol this week, only concern for our children. But politics certainly was taking place Tuesday just a block down the street.

Gov. Lawton Chiles, along with Democrats in the state Cabinet and the Legislature, spent part of the day making party fund-raising calls from a nearby law firm.

Others who crossed Monroe Street to the offices of Steel Hector & Davis, according to participants and party leaders, included Attorney General Bob Butterworth, Insurance Commissioner Bill Nelson, Agriculture Commissioner Bob Crawford, state Sen. Buddy Dyer of Orlando and state Rep. Buzz Ritchie of Pensacola.

Dyer is a Democratic leader in the state Senate, and Ritchie is the leader of his party in the state House. The Legislature is meeting in special session this week to address Florida's crowded schools.

State law forbids the soliciting of campaign contributions on state property, which is why the Democrats gathered a block from the Capitol. One issue in the federal campaign-finance controversy in Washington is whether President Clinton and Vice President Gore violated a similar federal law by making such calls from the White House.

Tuesday's fund-raising calls were described as part of a new, closer cooperation between the state's top elected Democrats and the Florida Democratic Party to win more elections next year, party leaders said.

In recent weeks, the elected Democrats have met to express concern that the party has lost its focus. Those concerns were increased when the Democrats lost a "safe" state House seat two weeks ago in Tampa.

"We were trying to raise some funds that the party could use for things beneficial in (U.S. Sen.) Bob Graham's race, the governor's race, and House and Senate races," Chiles said.

"I think we're beginning to work at it," Chiles said of relations between the party's top elected officers and party organization. "But we've got some work to do."

Nelson also said the elected officials' effort was an example of getting more involved with the party. "This is part of the means to do this new plan," he said.

Scott Falmlen, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, said part of the goal of Tuesday's calls was to tap "new money" from donors who might have given to federal candidates in the past, not the state party. But calls also went out to previous donors to ask for new contributions.

Unlike contributions to federal and state candidates, donations to state parties have no dollar limit.

The parties have legal limits on how much they can spend in a race, but state law provides many ways around those limits.

For the nine months ending Sept. 1, the Democratic Party reported raising $1.4-million, compared to more than $4-million for the state Republican Party. However, Falmlen said when including money raised by all state candidates for both parties, Democrats have raised nearly the same amount as Republicans.