Money and the Attorney General’s Race – Part I
NOTE: Kartik Krishnaiyer served as the Deputy Campaign Manager for George Sheldon’s Campaign and he did not contribute to this story.
The race for Florida Attorney General was supposed to be an interesting race. Back in August, it genuinely looked as if this may be a very exciting issues-based race to watch, with Pam Bondi constantly getting bad press and George Sheldon leaving his job in Health and Human Services Commission in Washington, DC to come back and run against her. Bondi’s polarizing stands on issues combined with Sheldon’s issue-advocacy and smart ad buys in the primary made things appear like they would be competitive.
After Sheldon won the Democratic primary over House Minority Leader Perry Thurston decisively, it seemed as if other groups, such as Equality Florida and Sierra Club, were going to step in and really make a fight out of this. This was supposed to be a good campaign to watch, as no other Democratic candidate for constitutional offices was even competitive and it seemed as if Pam Bondi was weak enough to be beaten. While the governor’s race dominated the media, this race had almost as many consequences for voters and Sheldon lacked the negative mistrust of Crist.
However, the interest in this campaign and candidate just never materialized to the level it needed to. The Sheldon campaign fizzled and simply faded without making much of an impact, garnering only slightly more votes than the “non-competitive” other contenders for constitutional office. While Sheldon ran stronger slightly than Dan Gelber did against Bondi in 2010, the Republican Attorney General once again defied the odds and critics and recorded a double-digit victory.
While there was one small debate aired in the Tampa and Orlando media markets, there simply was not ever a genuine back-and-forth over real issues. Bondi never even attacked Sheldon outside the debate and did not spend any money on negative advertising and no one from Pam Bondi’s camp even mentioned Sheldon’s name in the press. Instead of a campaign focused on issues and experience, these two campaigns became a lesson in campaign money and how it gets spent. The contrasts between the two campaigns are even more different than the candidates themselves and where the money went tells the true story of this campaign.
Money in politics has been a theme in this class. However, much of the rhetoric surrounding money is limited to the differences in money raised. The actual differences that money creates in is far more complicated than simply a competition in dollar amounts. Where the money is spent tells a story that goes much further than merely out-raising your opponent and shows a huge difference in the Florida Democratic Party and the Republican Party of Florida.
George Sheldon raised money slowly. Many donations came in together on the same day, which coordinated on his Facebook page with meet-and-greets. These raised between $7,000-$10,000, with several much less than that. The majority of the donations were small, with very few donations over $500. Sorting through the thousands and thousands of small dollar donations, it is clear that the vast majority of the money that he got was from small dollar donors from inside Florida. There are lots of fifty and hundred dollar checks from individuals all over the state, mostly coming in after his primary win. Many were from recognizable Democratic activist names. The vast majority of donations were well under the $3,000 limit. Very few business and corporations donated – very few PACs, with small union donations in mostly the $1,000 to $1500 range. Overall, he raised a bit of money early, then it came in at a steady drip – no real momentum. There was a slight bump after primary with individuals, but no outside support of flood of money from interest groups. Perhaps most telling is that there was no donations or in-kind support from the Florida Democratic Party listed.
There was one PAC created in his name, but it only raised $5,000 and they did not spend that money during the campaign. Sheldon received a flood of cash in the last few days of fundraising due largely to negative press surrounding Bondi. Still this flood of money came in well too late to make a difference when so many Floridians had already cast early ballots.
Attorney General Pam Bondi’s money, on the other hand, came in quickly. The vast majority of her campaign money was in-kind donations from the state Republican Party. Special interests dominated her contribution list, with huge industries represented: sugar, agricultural interests, medical interests, and many Chamber of Commerce members. Over a dozen subsidiaries of Disney all gave her the limit of $3,000. The majority of donations from PACS and corporations – many giving the maximum amount – with few individuals. Used a fund raising firm, so many of the same donors as the rest of the Republican cabinet. Money started pouring in late in 2013 – she was raising money faster in the early part of the year during legislative session. The money flow tapered off later, but remained steady through the summer, but the majority of the campaign money raised after July was the in-kind contributions from the Republican Party of Florida.
Pam Bondi also had a PAC titled “And Justice for All,” which began raising money in the summer of 2013 and raised several million dollars. Contributors to this PAC include Florida Power Company, Florida Sugar, and large donations from the Chamber of Commerce, as well as various Republican Leadership funds. All significantly large donations that usually did not also contribute to her campaign. $50,000 to $100,000 amounts were most common, with several checks significantly larger. All of the large expenses in this account went directly to Deborah Aleksander LCC, Strategy Holdings LCC, ContributionLink LCC, and Issue Management LCC.
Part II will run Thursday