November 10, 2016 – The News Service of Florida Backroom Briefing
by Jim Saunders and Jim Turner
When Florida lawmakers approved changes in 2013 to the campaign-finance system, the effort was repeatedly billed as a way to increase transparency.
But in Tallahassee, as shown during this year’s elections, transparency is a relative concept — especially when it involves piles of money and political careers.
Tens of millions of dollars flowed through a maze of political committees during the 2016 election cycle, often making it difficult, if not impossible, to follow the money. The committees are tied to lawmakers, party leaders, interest groups and political consultants and are able to receive amounts far larger than the limited contributions candidates can receive.
Committees also sometimes send money to each other. That helps create separation for donors and candidates from how the money is ultimately used — separation that can come in handy when money pays for nasty mail pieces or TV ads.
As an illustration of how money flowed during the election, consider the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is headed by incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, and played a key role in the Senate GOP’s election efforts Tuesday. The committee raised about $7.51 million and spent about $16.1 million between Aug. 26 and Nov. 3, according to a report filed last Friday with the state Division of Elections.
Corporate players directly made big contributions to the committee, with, for example, Disney Worldwide Services, Inc., and Florida Power & Light each contributing $100,000 last month. That’s simple enough.
But many of the biggest contributions to the Negron-led committee came from other political committees, including committees tied to senators or Senate candidates. Those committees raked in money on their own, then funneled portions to the Negron-led committee, which in turn spent it on campaigns.
For instance, the committee Friends of Dana Young sent $1 million in October and early November to the Negron-led committee. Friends of Dana Young is led by House Majority Leader Dana Young, a Tampa Republican who won a high-profile race for a Senate seat Tuesday.
Similarly, a committee known as the Foundation for Human Values, headed by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, sent $200,000 to the Negron-led committee last month. Diaz de la Portilla lost a fiercely contest race Tuesday for a Miami-Dade County Senate seat.
Also during the more than two-month period, the Negron-led committee received $925,000 from Innovate Florida, a committee led by Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; $500,000 from Jobs for Florida, a committee linked to Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby; $400,000 from the Florida Leadership Committee, linked to incoming Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater; and $250,000 from the Treasure Coast Alliance, another Negron committee.
Outside of the senators and candidates, the Negron committee received $350,000 during the period from the Washington-based Republican State Leadership Committee, which works to elect GOP candidates to state offices across the country. It also received money from many Tallahassee committees, including $273,500 from a Florida Justice Association PAC and $100,000 from a Florida Chamber of Commerce PAC.
With such large chunks of money, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee was able to spent much of the $16.1 million on advertising in advance of Tuesday’s elections
For instance, it sent about $7.1 million to the firm Strategic Media Placement for what was described in the campaign finance report as media buys. It also sent $1.4 million to the firm Data Targeting, Inc. for services that included direct mail and polling. [READ MORE]