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Who’s boosting Laurel Lee’s campaign contributions for Congress

Her coffers were boosted by the political committee of her husband, former state Senator Tom Lee.
Laurel Lee with her husband, then state Senator Tom Lee, on the first day of the 2016 Florida legislative session.
Laurel Lee with her husband, then state Senator Tom Lee, on the first day of the 2016 Florida legislative session. [ SCOTT KEELER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jul. 24

Former Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee just got a big infusion of cash in her campaign for Congress, with more possibly to come — $1 million originally from a political committee tied to the former political ambitions of her husband, former state Sen. Tom Lee.

Laurel Lee was already a leader in fundraising in the Republican primary for the new District 15 U.S. House seat covering northeast Hillsborough County, Zephyrhills and part of Lakeland.

The extra cash — less than half the money socked away by Tom Lee years ago in anticipation of a run for statewide office — could give her the ability to saturate the district with advertising in the month remaining before the primary, plus a head start in the general election.

But another candidate in the Republican primary for the seat, state Sen. Kelli Stargel, is also tapping a political fund built up during service in the Legislature to provide a 7-figure congressional campaign fund.

A newly formed federal super PAC, funded solely by a $1 million contribution from Stargel’s state-level political committee, is making independent expenditures to boost Stargel.

Lee and Stargel face Demetries Grimes, Kevin John McGovern and state Rep. Jackie Toledo of Tampa in the GOP primary. Alan Cohn, Eddie Geller and others are in a Democratic primary.

The Lee money comes originally from Tom Lee’s political committee, The Conservative. Its accounts were inflated by his service as 2015-16 Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, a post that gives its holder major fundraising clout.

In 2017, Tom Lee announced a campaign for state Chief Financial Officer, but never filed. He would have had to challenge Jimmy Patronis, appointed to the post by then-Gov. Rick Scott.

Tom Lee instead stored the money, about $2.3 million, in a non-profit political committee. In June, it gave $1 million to a federal PAC, Conservative Action Fund, which has already paid for more than $369,000 in television, direct mail and digital advertising to promote Laurel Lee.

Stargel, Senate appropriations chair for the past two sessions, has built up some $1.2 million in a state political committee, which recently gave $1 million to a newly formed federal PAC, Conservative Warriors. It has so far paid for $468,772 in mail and advertising for her.

This is in addition to the candidates’ campaign accounts.

Laurel Lee had raised $510,143 for her campaign by the end of June, including a $65,000 loan from herself, with $487,361 cash remaining after expenses.

Stargel, comparatively new to the race, raised $254,105 including a $50,000 loan from herself, with $214,060 cash.

Toledo had raised $520,160 with $391,325 cash remaining.

McGovern had raised $494,013 including a $475,000 loan from himself, with $398,615 cash; and Grimes $396,661 including a $165,000 loan from himself, with $202,801 cash.

Among the Democrats, Cohn, also new to the race, had raised $84,802 with $76,543 cash, and Geller $437,663 with $133,579 cash.


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