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  1. Florida Politics

Jack Nicklaus brings name, and hopefully money, to Rick Scott's re-election campaign

Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus will host a private fundraiser Jan. 15 at his North Palm Beach home for Gov. Scott’s campaign fund.
Published Dec. 31, 2013

The Golden Bear is the latest millionaire to help Gov. Rick Scott raise campaign gold.

Golfing legend Jack Nicklaus will open his North Palm Beach home for a private fundraiser Jan. 15 with a suggested contribution of $10,000 to Scott's campaign fund, Let's Get to Work.

Ten grand?

That's it?

As the invitation discreetly notes in fine print, "Let's Get to Work may accept unlimited contributions" (hint, hint).

Every four years in Florida, the election for governor is declared the most expensive in the state's history, and it appears that 2014 will continue the trend. Scott said he would bankroll $25 million by the end of 2013 and plans to spend it on TV ads to "define" his opponent.

What's different about the evolving race between the Republican governor and his likely Democratic challenger, Charlie Crist, is the extent to which both candidates are counting on unrestricted, big-dollar donations to raise millions and millions faster.

In so doing, they increasingly are marginalizing modest donors. The real people who can write checks of $250 or $500 are fast becoming chump change in a system that's dependent on six-figure donations.

A funny thing happened on the way to this fundraising Armageddon.

The Legislature made a big deal last spring when it raised the ceiling on individual donations from $500 to $3,000 in statewide elections for the first time in more than two decades. But those caps apply only to candidates' re-election funds, which are generally made up of donations from individuals.

In this age, a candidate for governor who chooses to raise money in $3,000 increments is headed for electoral irrelevance. Scott and Crist have separate money machines that are exempt from those limits.

Scott's high-dollar fundraising machine is an electioneering communications organization, or ECO. Crist has a political committee, Charlie Crist for Florida.

Crist in December received $200,000 in two checks from Miami investor Bruce Berkowitz; $100,000 in two checks from Houston personal injury lawyer Steve Mostyn; and $25,000 from David Boies, who was Al Gore's lead lawyer in the 2000 presidential recount in Florida. Scott's fund, meanwhile, raked in checks of $10,000 or more from 30 individuals and corporations in December, and two probusiness political committees gave $125,000 each. Scott's committee has been raising money at the staggering rate of $88,000 a day, or $3,600 an hour. It also should be noted that Scott received 217 donations of $500 or less in December, compared to two of that size for Crist.

Nicklaus and Scott struck up a friendship after Scott was elected in 2011, and Scott was bullish on the idea of creating the Jack Nicklaus Golfing Trail, which would give the six-time Masters champion the exclusive right to build golf courses in five Florida state parks.

Environmental groups and regular folks weren't very hot on the idea, and they flooded state Rep. Patrick Rooney's office with criticism. He dropped the idea, and it hasn't been heard from since.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263.

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