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Pam Bondi's Clearwater fundraiser organized by Scientologists

Pam Bondi is aware Scientologists are staging the event, said campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson. [EVE EDELHEIT | Times]
Published Jul. 1, 2014

Attorney General Pam Bondi, who already has raised millions for her re-election campaign, can expect to pull in more dollars tonight at a Clearwater fundraiser where all six organizers are prominent members of the Church of Scientology.

Bondi's "special guest,'' the invitation says, will be U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores.

Hosting the event are Liz and Michael Baybak, owners of a 23rd-floor penthouse in the swank Water's Edge condos downtown. The tower, perched on a 40-foot bluff, affords stunning views of Clearwater Harbor to the west and, in every other direction, Scientology's many buildings.

Baybak is chief executive of Michael Baybak and Company, a Clearwater-based business services consulting firm. Baybak and his wife have been major donors to Scientology. They also have been occasional contributors to congressional candidates, federal elections records show. They could not be reached for comment.

Other organizers are Brett Miller, who has been active for years in local Republican politics, and his wife, Dr. Jill Hagan, a Clearwater dentist; and Joanie and Steve Sigal, co-founders of a Clearwater marketing company, SJS Associates. The two couples also have contributed to local, state and congressional candidates, most of them Republicans.

Reached by phone Monday, Miller and Steve Sigal hung up on a reporter, refusing to discuss how many guests are expected and whether any non-Scientologists are invited, other than Bondi and Jolly.

Bondi is aware Scientologists are staging the event, said campaign spokeswoman Christina Johnson. She said Bondi first connected with Scientologists in 2010 when she and other elected officials toured some of the church's Clearwater facilities. Bondi spoke then to a group of Scientologists about human trafficking and the evils of pill mills, a topic that resonated because Scientologists sponsor what they tout as the largest antidrug program in the world.

At Tuesday's fundraiser, she will return to those themes, Johnson said. "It's like-minded folks sharing the same goals: Protecting children against drug overdoses and human trafficking,'' Johnson said.

One of those topics rings with irony. From 2009 to 2011, the FBI investigated church work sites, primarily in California, focusing on physical and mental restrictions and probing whether they constituted human trafficking. The investigation ended with no charges filed.

Jolly will attend the fundraiser as a supporter of Bondi and because the event is in his congressional district, said aide Preston Rudie.

Bondi has been aggressive in propelling her campaign coffers. Last year, she took heat after persuading Gov. Rick Scott to postpone an execution because it conflicted with her re-election kickoff reception.

Tonight's reception likely will produce an added surge — contributions are suggested to start at $1,000.

Democrats George Sheldon and Perry Thurston are waging a primary fight to oppose Bondi in November. Both lag well behind in campaign contributions.

Times Washington Bureau Chief Alex Leary contributed to this report. Contact Joe Childs at jchilds@tampabay.com.

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