In Florida, the days from November to March mean more than beautiful weather. They also provide perfect conditions to wield power through campaign cash.
State lawmakers are prohibited from soliciting donations during session, the two-month period where they consider new laws, regulations, contracts and ways to spend the Florida budget that this year began March 5. That moratorium on campaign cash is meant to shield lawmakers from any undue influence.
But those 16 weeks or so between Election Day and passing bills? That’s the sweet spot for those looking to influence lawmakers.
According to an analysis by the Tampa Bay Times of records filed this week, state politicians and committees recorded $61.2 million in donations during this last stretch between ballots and bills, a flurry of activity greater than any such period in at least 20 years, even after adjusting for inflation.
More campaign money changed hands between Election Day and session than in any such period in two decades
(That figure doesn’t represent the total given, however. Instead, it includes money each time it’s contributed. Many committees and individuals receive, divide and recycle donations again and again.)
Of that $61 million, most went to PACs associated with issues or potential ballot questions, not state lawmakers. Legislators did nab more than $10 million, though.
Here’s who earned the most in the statehouse — and where they got it:
These people and organizations gave the most to legislators and their committees.
1. Florida Blue: $365,000
The state’s largest insurer provider, part of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, is the top dog this season. Florida Blue donated heavily to Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby ($50,000 to his Jobs for Florida committee) and Rep. W. Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island ($35,000 to First Coast Conservatives).
Insurance legislation often draws interest in lobbying and spending and have wide impact. A House legislative committee this week advanced a bill to require some 50,000 Medicaid recipients to prove they’re working or attempting to do so. If passed, critics say, more people would lose coverage. Republicans Marylynn Magar, Colleen Burton, Nick DiCeglie, Mel Ponder and Democrats Shevrin Jones and Thomas Leek all sit on the committee and received contributions. Florida Blue also gave $20,000 to Free Markets for Florida, a PAC associated with the committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, as well as Cummings and Sen. Manny Díaz, R-Hialeah Gardens.
2. Florida Power & Light Company: $179,350
Based in Juno Beach, FPL has donated to Simpson ($50,000) and Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg ($25,000). The utility company is so powerful in Tallahassee that a bill to rename roads after killed law enforcement officers added the name of an FPL lobbyist to the list.
3. Florida Prosperity Fund: $178,500
Associated Industries of Florida, the business advocacy group, controls several political action committees full of contributions from large corporations. This particular AIF committee gave $35,000 to Free Markets for Florida, the committee associated with Rodrigues, Cummings and Diaz. During the 2018 campaign for governor, Florida Prosperity Fund was one of the committees that collected donations from sugar corporations and donated to now-Gov. Ron DeSantis, although he claimed that did not mean he took sugar money.
4. OD-EYEPAC: $170,000
A committee run by the Florida Optometric Association has its eye on Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor. The association donated $25,000 to a committee linked to the Republican. OD-EYEPAC donated the same amount to Simpson.
5. JM Family Enterprises: $168,440
JM Family Enterprises is an auto company in Deerfield Beach. The company, which is also lobbying on several bills, including one that would expand automated vehicle permissions, gave most of its money to Simpson ($100,440).
6. Rep. W. Travis Cummings (First Coast Conservatives): $150,000
In an example of how campaign money comes and goes, Rep. Cummings is also one of the biggest donors to other legislators. Cummings gave $150,000 to Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, through his Working for Florida’s Families PAC.
7. Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC: $132,000
The business advocacy group gave Simpson, Free Markets for Florida (Rodrigues, Cummings and Diaz) and Sprowls $25,000 each. It also donated funds to Bradley and Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford.
8. United States Sugar Corporation: $122,500
The powerful company gave $100,000 to Simpson and smaller donations to Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples ($15,000), Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee ($5,000) and Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg ($2,500).
9. RAI Services Company: $116,000
Reynolds American Inc., parent of the tobacco company, gave heavily to Bradley ($25,000), Passidomo ($15,000), Hutson ($15,000) and Cummings ($15,000).
10. Floridian’s United for our Children’s Future: $108,000
Like Florida Prosperity Fund, Floridian’s United for our Children’s Future is another PAC controlled by AIF. The group used this committee to give to Galvano ($25,000), Cummings ($25,000) and House Speaker Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes ($25,000)
1. Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton: $929,384.81
Hutson is the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development.
Top donors: J.B. Coxwell Contracting ($100,000), AFI Associates ($50,000), Elkton Green ($50,000), England-Thims & Miller ($25,000), Jacksonville Kennel Club ($25,000), Cordova Palms Investments ($25,000), Ring Power ($25,000), Florida Prosperity Fund ($25,000), Intervest Construction of Jax ($25,000) and CPF Investment Group ($25,000).
2. Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby: $925,841.10
In addition to sitting on Hutson’s committee on transportation, tourism, and economic development, Simpson is the vice-chairman of the powerful Appropriations Committee.
Top donors: JM Family Enterprises ($100,440), United States Sugar Corporation ($100,000), Florida Power & Light Company ($50,000), Florida Blue ($50,000), Floridians United for our Children’s Future ($50,000), Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC ($25,000), Thomas F. Peltway III ($25,000), Eldorado Resorts ($25,000), The GEO Group ($25,000), Keeping Florida Affordable PC ($25,000), OD-EYEPAC ($25,000), Freeport Communications ($25,000), North American Health Services ($20,000), TECO Energy ($20,000) and Voice of Florida Business Political Action Committee ($20,000).
3. Rep. Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast: $854,016.22
Renner serves as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Top donors: Florida Blue ($35,000), OD-EYEPAC ($30,000), PEPSICO ($25,000), Robert M. Rubenstein ($25,000), The GEO Group ($25,000), TECO Energey ($20,000).
4. Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island: $591,085.75
Bradley is the Senate’s budget chief and is a power player behind medical marijuana legislation.
Top donors: First Coast Conservatives ($150,000), RAI Services Company ($25,000), George Hackney ($15,000), The GEO Group ($15,000), Calder Race Course ($15,000), Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC ($15,000) and Florida Prosperity Fund ($15,000).
5. Rep. W. Travis Cummings, R-Fleming Island: $547,260.75
Cummings is the House Appropriations Committee chairman.
Top donors: Florida Blue ($35,000), Floridian’s United for our Children’s Future ($25,000),FL Chamber of Comm PAC ($15,000), Gulf Coast Healthcare ($15,000) and RAI Services Company ($15,000).