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Florida GOP spends $250,000 in Pasco’s House race

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NEW PORT RICHEY — The Republican Party of Florida has spent more than $250,000 to ensure that Mike Fasano’s state House seat doesn’t fall to the Democrats in Tuesday’s special election.

Republican Bill Gunter reported raising $283,342 since his primary win in September, bringing the total amount raised to nearly $377,000. The bulk of his money came from the state and local GOP and from outside interests.

Less than $4,000 of the $82,000 Gunter raised in the last month came from Pasco donors.

Democrat Amanda Murphy reported raising nearly $100,000 including more than $20,000 from within Pasco County, but the Florida Democratic Party made up nearly half of her cash contributions, $46,000. The state party also chipped in more than $32,000 in in-kind contributions, for a total in excess of $78,000.

University of South Florida Political Scientist Susan MacManus said this type of spending — once considered extreme for a state House race — is becoming common in swing districts throughout the nation.

“It just shows that nobody wants to lose anything they have right now because it’s such a divide,” MacManus said. “It’s also a forerunner to next year, and the Republicans would like a win right now because polls are showing that people are blaming them more for the problems in Washington.”

Gunter’s relationship with House leadership — Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, and future Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Trinity — has helped him bring in more than $100,000 from corporations, PACs and lobbyists.

Citizens for Fairness, an electioneering committee chaired by Carmela Falcone of Melbourne, spent $100,000 on mailers attacking Murphy. The committee reported raising only $42,500. It is a violation of Florida law for any candidate or committee to spend money without reporting the source of the funds, according to the Division of Elections. Falcone, who could not be reached for comment, is chairwoman of 10 electioneering committees registered with the state Division of Elections.

Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross has also reportedly inserted himself into the race, funding attack ads on Murphy through his PAC, Florida Jobs First. It’s unclear how much he has spent, since his PAC missed last Friday’s deadline to file a report with the Division of Elections — a violation of campaign finance law.

MacManus said the attack ads could have a negative effect on voter turnout.

“The tell-tale story — and what I’m going to be watching — is whether there will be a plummet in turnout because the race has been so negative on both sides,” MacManus said. “If it’s less than 20 percent, then you have to wonder about the utility and pragmatism of nonstop negative advertising.”

So far more than 11 percent of voters have already voted by absentee or through early voting.

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