The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce endorsed state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa, who's being challenged for re-election by Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.
But the Cruz campaign shot back that the chamber is actually "a front group" for special interests including offshore oil drilling, corporate charter schools and others.
The endorsement drew some interest because Young and Cruz, who's Hispanic, are running in a district that includes heavily Hispanic areas of West Tampa and Town 'n' Country.
The Wellington-based Hispanic chamber's president, Julio Fuentes, has written op-ed pieces arguing for offshore drilling and more charter schools, and the organization is a member of a new group formed to advocate offshore energy exploration.
It gets revenue from "trustees," large corporations including pharmaceuticals, utilities, Big Sugar and others that pay $3,000 per year.
Fuentes said his group chose Young because, "She has been a true champion for small businesses (and) for education, specifically the Florida tax credit scholarship program," which diverts corporate tax revenue to a voucher program for low-income families.
The chamber's web site says it "represents the interests of over 604,000 Hispanic-owned businesses" but doesn't give a membership figure.
"We're not in the membership business like local chambers," Fuentes said.
Instead, he said, it works with 38 partners, other Hispanic organizations including chambers of commerce.
Ileana Martin, president of the 30-year-old Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Tampa Bay, which doesn't endorse candidates, said her organization is affiliated with the national Hispanic chamber but not Fuentes's group.
"I'm surprised we don't hear from them," she said.
After Young announced the endorsement in a West Tampa news conference Wednesday, Cruz tweeted, "I'm appalled @Dana YoungFL promoting offshore oil drilling and corporate charter advocates!"
Young spokeswoman Sarah Bascom called Cruz's charge "ridiculous."
"Everyone knows Dana Young is against offshore oil drilling and fracking," Bascom said. "This is nothing more than Janet Cruz knowingly lying and making up a nonsensical story line because she did not get an endorsement."