PAC money is always hard to follow, especially as it gets closer to election season, and it is always interesting to see which interests are supporting who and how the money can be traced. In readings about PAC money in state races, an article about Communities First PAC was attacking Joe Geller popped up, which prompted a search at the supervisor of elections campaign finance database to see where the funds were coming from. Florida Jobs PAC heavily funds Communities First and a closer look at Florida Jobs PAC revealed they also gave to Ed Narain and Kevin Radar. That signaled a closer look and what was discovered in Narain’s financials was disturbing to say the least.
Ed Narain is running for State Representative in District 61, which is part of the Hillsborough County delegation. A safe D seat, he is in a multi-candidate primary with the greatest competition being Sean Shaw, who has taken a lot of heat locally for being a “carpetbagger”in the Tampa Bay area having grown up in Tallahassee. Shaw’s dad, Leander Shaw, was a Justice on the Florida Supreme Court who was appointed by Bob Graham. Shaw lost a previous race for State House in the Tallahassee area and Narain has been a constant critic of his residency.
While Narian’s website clearly tries to portray him as a “Grassroots Democrat”, it became clear almost immediately is that he is being funded through a combination of Republican PACs, Disney and other Chamber of Commerce forces, and interests from the insurance industry. Almost every contribution at the $1,000 level could be traced to one of those three elements. While this type of fundraising is expected in Republican candidates, when a Democrat posts such a specific fundraising base, flags should be raised.
Narain is clearly a Disney-backed candidate first and foremost – not only are there a slew of thousand-dollar-level donations from various Disney contributors (Disney Gift Card services Inc, Disney Photo Imaging LCC, Disney Vacation Services INC, Walt Disney Travel Company INC, etc and on and on), but many of the PACs that contribute to his campaign, such as Communities First and Florida Jobs PAC, can be traced back to Disney and other Chamber of Commerce interests. Publix, Florida Light and Power Company, and Big Sugar also make appearances, signaling a coordinated effort of support from the Chamber of Commerce. Also AT&T PAC and a slew Insurance-related PACs make a cameo, painting a complete picture of a corporate candidate.
Ed Narain is the only Democratic recipient of money from Suncoast PAC (although they did give a donation to the Democratic Party of Florida). Florida Justice Reform Committee also gave him $1000, even though the majority of the committees other expenditures went to Republicans; likewise with the Voice of Florida Business PAC and Floridians Public Right to Know Committee. Former House Speaker Dean Cannon wrote him a $500 check. Ronald Book, the south Florida Lobbyist famous for orchestrating the laws that put sex offenders under the Julia Tuttle Causeway in Miami, has given him a thousand dollars. Bellpower PAC has only three expenditures listed on the SOE: a $39.84 AT&T bill, a $1,000 to Ed Narain, and $3,000 to Rick Scott. Throughout his entire contribution list, there is a constant trend of money that is tied back to Republican power players. This should worry progressives.
It should also be noted the amounts of money raised outside of the Tampa area, even though his website tries to claim otherwise. While looking at his list of contributors it appears many are from Tampa, however, all of these are low dollar donations. Most of his high dollar contributions come from all over the state and are tied to the Chamber of Commerce.
Here is what Narain puts on his website about his campaign fundraising:
“The strong February showing brings Narain’s total funds raised to just over $70,000, but even more impressive is the story behind the numbers:
*Narain’s campaign account boasts 567 separate donations.
*Over 70% of those contributions come from Hillsborough County.
*The average donation was just over $120, with dozens of donations of ten and twenty dollars.
While many Democrats accept money from Disney, the Chamber, or other business interests, the striking thing about Narain is that the vast majority of his money traces back to economic entities instead of community or advocacy groups. There is no support from labor or other traditional Democratic advocacy groups. And it should also be noted that this is all hard money – the soft money in this race is sure to be far greater.
Elements associated with the Republican Party of Florida and the Chamber of Commerce are the financial backbone of his campaign and that should worry a lot of people. Ed Narain has a real chance of victory – he has been endorsed by the Tampa Bay Times and the Florida Sentinel, along with a slew of other community groups. In his endorsement from the Tampa Bay Times, the paper points to Shaw’s outside support instead of Narain’s: “Much of Shaw’s support comes from power brokers who live outside the district and tout his ability to leverage his Tallahassee experience for Tampa. Narain’s backers are homegrown leaders, including people who have spent decades in public service within the district.”
Clearly, the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board did not do thorough research in their endorsement of Ed Narain because there is little evidence to support the claim that his backers are homegrown leaders.
From a progressive perspective, at least based on his fundraising, he needs to be defeated. The Florida Squeeze has endorsed Sean Shaw in HD-61 and these revelations further our desire to see Narain defeated. While there is no doubt he has been a positive force in the Tampa Community, Narain’s Republican ties are enough to raise doubt in his abilities to be an effective legislator.