TALLAHASSEE, FL (News Service of Florida) - Florida lawmakers are barred from raising campaign cash during the legislative session.
But during the days and hours before the annual session started March 3, about $1.3 million poured into lawmakers' campaign accounts --- with large chunks of money coming from businesses or groups with interests in the Capitol, according to newly filed campaign-finance reports.
A search of the state Division of Elections database shows that contributions dated March 1 through March 3 to House candidates totaled $710,000. Contributions to Senate candidates --- including some to candidates running in 2018 --- totaled nearly $600,000. Almost all of the money went to sitting lawmakers.
With one notable exception, the largest amounts of money during the abbreviated fundraising period went to Senate candidates. As examples, Sen. Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, raised $69,950, and Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, collected $47,000, as they run for re-election in 2016, according to the Division of Elections website. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach Republican who is running for the Senate in 2016, brought in $46,270.
The notable exception is House Appropriations Chairman Richard Corcoran, a Land O' Lakes Republican who will become House speaker in 2016 if he gets re-elected in his Pasco County district. Corcoran raised $53,000 immediately before session, with the contributions dated March 2 on the Division of Elections website.
State candidates, parties and political committees were required by a Friday deadline to file reports showing their campaign-finance activity through March 31.
In many cases, legislative candidates have been raising money for months --- or even longer --- for 2016 and 2018 campaigns. For instance, Gaetz, has raised an overall total of nearly $565,000 as he runs next year to try to replace his term-limited father, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, in the Panhandle's Senate District 1.
The money raised for candidates' campaign accounts during the first few days of March reflects only a portion of the checks written to support legislative candidates. Numerous lawmakers are involved in separate fundraising committees. As an example, the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is chaired by Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, collected about $752,000 immediately before the session started, according to a search of the database.
Among the numerous Capitol players that contributed to lawmakers' campaign accounts in early March were Disney-related companies, the Florida Justice Association, the Florida Medical Association, the HCA health-care chain, the Seminole Tribe of Florida and U.S. Sugar Corp.