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State party fundraising modest this spring — but juiced by casino dollars

by John Kennedy | April 11th, 2012

The Florida Republican and Democratic parties’ latest reports show modest fund-raising totals for the opening quarter of this presidential election year — with the state’s high-voltage battle over casino gambling proving a big dollar driver on both sides.

Republicans raised $2.9 million, while Democrats pulled in $1.2 million between Jan. 1-March 31, according to reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

For Republicans, it was the lowest quarterly fund-raising total in three years. The Democratic total was closer in line with typical party collections, although Democrats had reported a stunningly low $894,445 late last summer.

Florida Democratic Party spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said the party was confident it was on the right track with voters this election year. She pointed out the Florida GOP had out-raised Democrats $22 million to $6 million last year.

“The Republicans fundraising advantage does not translate into electoral success,” Jordan said. ”Despite the financial disparity last year, Democrats won mayoral races across the state, including the GOP stronghold of Jacksonville and in the heart of the state’s I-4 corridor.

“The bottom line: smart, strategic investments trump fundraising and money can’t buy approval for the GOP’s extreme agenda,” she added.

Republicans counterpunched.

“We will have the resources in 2012 to communicate our message of economic growth and job creation,” said state Republican Party spokesman Brian Hughes.  “At the same time, Democrats will offer more debt and deficits, higher taxes, and policies that punish success rather than encourage it.

“These failed ideas led us to overwhelming wins in 2010 and will be the reason for Republican victories this November,” Hughes said.

Both sides, though, seemed to agree that this spring’s push by Genting Resorts World to win legislative approval for a bayside casino in Miami helped generate dollars.

Republicans collected $307,423 from Universal Orlando Resort and Disney World, resorts which fought the Genting resorts plan. Also echoing the Disney line was the Florida Chamber of Commerce, whose political committees gave $85,000 to the GOP.

The Seminole Tribe gave $125,000 to Republicans last quarter, while the Florida Thoroughbred Breeders Association gave $25,000. Both organizations are wary of the business risk casinos posed.

For its part, Genting gave the GOP $100,000, reports show.

Democrats also benefited from the tug-of-war, which fizzled in early February when House sponsor, Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, ended debate on the bill (HB 489) amid steady opposition.

The Florida Democratic Party’s quarterly fund-raising included $150,000 from Hill Brow LLC, a Genting affiliate based in Miami. Another $5,000 came from the Florida AFL-CIO, some of whose affiliated unions supported the casino push.

But the Florida Chamber gave the opposition some heft with Democrats, weighing-in with $12,500 for the party. Disney gave $10,000 and the Isle of Capri Casino and Racetrack in Pompano Beach gave $10,000.

Genting, a Malaysian casino giant, has spent $250 million buying the Miami Herald site and surrounding real estate in Miami, and had hired 23 lobbyists for last session. Genting initially proposed a $3 billion, 10-million-square-foot resort, with 5,200 rooms at the location, but last month announced a sharply scaled-back proposal, but offered few new details.

Fresen’s bill would have allowed as many as three casinos in Broward and Miami-Dade, if approved by voters in county referendums. But the casino drive was mostly hampered by the increasingly complex politics of gambling in Florida — which is reflected in the cash flowing to the state parties in their latest reports.

South Florida horse- and dog-tracks fear casinos will kill the already flagging industry, while the Seminole Tribe, which reached a lucrative gambling compact with the state only a few years ago, also opposed the entry of a well-heeled casino rival.

In the end, Genting and its lobbyist corps were unable last spring to crack the political Rubik’s Cube. But most expect the measure will be back. Genting is heavily invested, having poured almost $630,000 into Florida campaigns last year, with $385,000 going to the state Republican Party.

 

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