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Money comes, the money goes: The week in Florida politics

September 8, 2018

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s 2018 midterm election is one of the most important in years. The governor’s office and all three Cabinet seats are on the ballot, Republican Gov. Rick Scott is challenging three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, several congressional seats will be competitive, and Floridians will vote on several proposed constitutional amendments, ranging from property tax cuts to banning greyhound racing. The following are items of political interest from the past week:

GILLUM’S WINDFALL

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum surprising victory in the Democratic primary for governor helped him jump out to an early fundraising lead over GOP nominee U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Gillum collected more than $4 million right after the Aug. 28 primary, according to campaign finance reports filed on Friday. By contrast, DeSantis reported taking in nearly $522,000 during the same time period.

The new reports only cover donations given until the end of August. But it was a substantial windfall for Gillum, who was outraised during the primary campaign by his other main Democratic opponents.

Gillum’s campaign also noted that it had received nearly 40,000 donations in the immediate aftermath of his victory. Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum, said the surge in donations is a signal of “unprecedented grassroots support.”

Among those giving money to Gillum was the Democratic Governors Association. The DGA gave $1 million to a political committee controlled by Gillum. His committee also got $1 million from wealthy hedge fund manager Donald Sussman and $10,000 from former NBA head coach Stan Van Gundy.

A political committee controlled by DeSantis got $100,000 from a political committee controlled by the Florida Chamber of Commerce and $25,000 from U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz’s re-election campaign. Gaetz, a Republican from northwest Florida, has been a vocal backer of DeSantis.

Republicans have held the governor’s mansion for 20 years and during that time period their candidates have usually raised more money than Democrats.

But leading up to the primary, it was Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam who had pulled in substantial financial support from Florida’s business community and corporations. Putnam’s cash advantage, however, did not help him and he was crushed by DeSantis in the Republican primary.

TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN

In the final weeks before the Democratic primary for governor, billionaire real estate investor Jeff Greene formed the Florida Defense Fund political committee and stocked it with $5 million. He promised to use the money to help Democrats in down ballot races after the election.

“This is my vision for Florida: I will help Democrats take back the Senate, make a dent in the House, and defend Bill Nelson’s U.S. Senate seat against Rick Scott,” Greene said in a press release announcing the formation of the committee. “Just imagine how effective we can be together.”

But Greene came in fourth of the five major candidates after spending nearly $36 million of his own money on the race, and now the $5 million pledged to down-ballot races is gone.

The day after the election, the committee repaid Greene $4,999,509.94.

THE OTHER LG CANDIDATE

Once one of the most outspoken Republicans in the Legislature, former Sen. Nancy Argenziano will be on the Florida ballot again — as the running mate of Reform Party candidate for governor Darcy Richardson.

It’s the latest in the winding path of Argenziano’s sometimes unusual political career, which includes making headlines for sending a 25-pound box of cow manure to a lobbyist as payback for disrespecting her.

Argenziano was elected to the House in 1996, to the Senate in 2002 and then was appointed to the Public Service Commission by then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist in 2007. She resigned her PSC position early, called some of her Republican colleagues “clowns” and endorsed Democrat Alex Sink for governor in 2010. In 2012, filed paperwork to challenge then-Republican U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland as a Democrat, but her candidacy was ruled invalid because hadn’t been a registered Democrat long enough to qualify for the ballot. Instead she ran for the state House as an Independent Party candidate and lost.

Richardson and Argenziano will have a tough hill to climb. With two months until the election, they have $7,000 in the bank in a race where the major party candidates are expected to spend tens of millions of dollars.

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