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Who funds the group bankrolling this Democratic candidate for governor?

About 30 percent of Gillum’s March fundraising haul came from Collective Future, a 501(c)(4) that is not legally required to disclose its donors.

The Collective PAC wants to see Democrat Andrew Gillum in the Florida Governor's Mansion next year, and the group is willing to spend big bucks to make it happen.

Dedicated to helping black leaders win political office, the Collective PAC has contributed $231,000 to a Gillum-associated political committee, Forward Florida, since December. (Political committees, unlike campaign committees, do not have contribution limits.)

The Washington, D.C.-based Collective PAC has an associated political action committee and a SuperPAC that are required to disclose their donors. But Collective Future, the 501(c)(4) arm of the group that has served as Gillum's largest contributor in 2018, does not have to.

Quentin James, the founder and executive director of The Collective, did not respond when asked about the identity of the major donors to Collective Future. But he did write in an earlier email, "The Collective has received over 13,000 individual contributions from over 6,000 people. We are a grassroots led and funded organization."

Because of the idiosyncrasies of American campaign finance law, it's not news that citizens sometimes don't get to know who's funding the political ambitions of would-be lawmakers. 501(c)(4) groups are allowed to spend unlimited money supporting candidates — as long as candidate support is not the group's primary function. (James did not respond when asked about Collective Future's primary function.)

What is interesting is the degree to which Gillum has leaned on an opaque fundraiser these past few months.

Collective Future donated $100,000 to Gillum's associated political committee, Forward Florida, each of the past two months — about a third of the Tallahassee mayor's total fundraising haul in that time. The Tampa Bay Times looked through campaign finance records for the other major Democratic candidates for governor and did not find anything close to that degree of support from a 501(c)(4).

When asked why the Collective decided to support Gillum through its least-transparent fundraising arm, James wrote, "Collective Future has simply raised more money than our PAC or Super PAC entities."

A Gillum spokesman wrote in an email that the campaign is "proud" to have the backing of the Collective.

"It's a clear indication that Mayor Gillum has real momentum in this race," Geoff Burgan wrote.

Also noteworthy: The group's support for Gillum appears to be wildly disproportionate to the other Collective-endorsed candidates running for governor. In addition to Gillum, the group supports Stacey Abrams for governor of Georgia, Ben Jealous for governor of Maryland and it supported Setti Warren for governor of Massachusetts — until Warren folded his campaign abruptly April 26.

A Tampa Bay Times review found $0 in donations from the Collective's various groups to Jealous, Abrams and Warren or any of their associated PACs. (James made a $500 personal donations to both the Warren and Abrams campaigns.) A spokeswoman for Abrams confirmed the candidate has not received any money from the Collective. The Jealous campaign did not respond to requests for comment. James, from the Collective, did not provide specific donation totals for the three candidates.

Attempts to reach the newly defunct Warren campaign were unsuccessful. But in a statement on Facebook that announced the end of his run, Warren said the campaign's inability to raise money was a major factor in his decision to step away from the race.

Setti Warren announces the end of his run for governor of Massachusetts in a Thursday, April 26 Facebook post. Screen grab. Credit: Facebook
Setti Warren announces the end of his run for governor of Massachusetts in a Thursday, April 26 Facebook post. Screen grab. Credit: Facebook

"The money just isn't there to run the kind of campaign I want to run," Warren wrote.

When asked why the Collective is investing so heavily in Gillum, James, the group's founder, stressed the importance of Florida to national politics.

"Florida presents unique opportunities in 2018, including the possibility of electing the state's first African American governor and attorney general, flipping some congressional seats including in Florida 18 and 27, re-electing Senator Nelson to the United States Senate and returning voting rights to to its citizens who have served their time," James wrote in an email.

And when asked whether Gillum could expect more support from the Collective going forward, James offered an enthusiastic response.

"We have plans to far exceed that amount before the primary and the general election," he wrote.

Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed reporting.