TALLAHASSEE — Call it draining the swamp.
There's a finite amount of money that interest groups, industries, the wealthy and unions are willing to pour into the ever-escalating arms race of political campaigns every two years.
But Florida is already assuming the pole position for a record-breaking amount of spending in 2014, thanks to a nationally watched governor's race; more-competitive legislative seats; and potential constitutional amendments on medical marijuana and land conservation.
Gov. Rick Scott, who has yet to raise a dime through his campaign account, has already grossed $19.3 million through his ad-buying "Let's Get to Work" electioneering organization. Insurance giant Florida Blue remains his biggest giver ($637,000), with Florida Power & Light ($555,000) close behind.
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist won't be a pushover on the check-chasing circuit. One of the most prolific fundraisers Florida has ever seen, the former Republican governor is adjusting to chasing dollars from the other team. Crist's first cash haul came to $872,000 raised through his Charlie Crist for Florida electioneering fund, much of it from South Florida trial lawyers.
With Scott expected to raise $100 million through his campaign and the Republican Party of Florida, Crist will need to collect about $4.2 million a month to reach his side's more modest, $50 million target.
That kind of cash haul has never been witnessed in Florida politics. Sure, Scott lent himself $73 million for his 2010 campaign — including $11 million in one month and $12 million in another. But the only Florida politician to approach fundraising at that level was Crist, whose best two-month tally ever was $3.8 million in summer 2005.
Florida's telecommunications, gaming and sugar industries continued to lead the way in spending on lobbyists in Tallahassee during the summer, new reports show.
U.S. Sugar Corp., the South Florida agricultural giant, spent about $245,000 on lobbying the Florida Legislature from July to September and an additional $195,000 on executive-branch lobbying. This past session, the company helped pushed a sweeping Everglades cleanup bill. Lawmakers also cemented 30-year leases on 14,000 acres of sugar cane and ag land in the Everglades Agricultural Area to stave off potential legal challenges from environmental groups over sugar growers' lease terms.
U.S. Sugar led the way in executive-branch spending and came in second in legislative lobbying expenses to AT&T, which spent about $340,000 to lobby lawmakers and an additional $190,000 to lobby the governor and state agencies. AT&T is pushing to eliminate a communications services tax.
The top 25 companies paying lobbyists to bend the ears of policymakers are littered with gambling interests, including the Seminole Tribe of Florida (with $182,000 spent on legislative lobbying); Las Vegas Sands Casinos ($100,000); Isle of Capri Casinos ($75,000); Hartman & Tyner ($70,000); and Resorts World Miami, the downtown Miami branch of Genting ($65,000).
All told, lobbyists reported being paid a total of approximately $30.2 million for legislative-branch lobbying for the quarter and $23.7 million for the executive branch. That puts the grand total for the year at $174.3 million so far. The numbers are causing some lobbyists to complain that rival companies are inflating their numbers.
Lawmakers plan to start conducting random audits of lobbyists' books in 2015.
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