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Tallahassee players funnel money to political committees


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, April 13, 2016.......... Millions of dollars poured into Florida's political system during the first three months of 2016, with huge chunks coming from business groups and industries such as utilities and insurers.

But much of the money didn't go directly to candidates or to the state Republican or Democratic parties. Instead, it landed in the accounts of political committees --- often known by motherhood-and-apple-pie names --- that will play a major role this year as voters elect all 160 members of the Legislature and decide the fate of high-profile ballot initiatives.

Candidates, parties and political committees were required to file detailed reports by Monday about how much money they had raised and spent as of March 31. The reports show heavy spending by businesses and groups that have stakes in what happens in Tallahassee, such as Florida Power & Light, Duke Energy, Florida Blue, Publix Super Markets, the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida.

Electric utilities appear to have spent the most during the period, with Florida Power & Light shelling out at least $2.74 million, according to a search of a state campaign-finance database. Much of that money went to PACs linked to groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries, which can, in turn, use the money to support candidates or other political committees.

Duke Energy spent at least $297,000, with $75,000 of that amount going to the Republican Party of Florida and another $75,000 going to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which is headed by incoming Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. That committee, aimed at keeping GOP dominance of the Senate, raised a total of $1.05 million from Jan. 1 through March 31.

FPL, Duke Energy and Gulf Power also combined to funnel $495,000 to a group called "Consumers for Smart Solar," which has spearheaded a proposed solar-energy initiative that will appear on the November ballot. FPL spent $300,000 on the initiative in January, followed by Duke with $125,000 and Gulf with $70,000, the finance records show.

Insurance companies also spent heavily during the first three months, with the health insurer Florida Blue anteing up at least $314,000, according to the database. In part, Florida Blue sent $105,000 to the Republican Party of Florida, $75,000 to Gov. Rick Scott's "Let's Get to Work" committee and $35,000 to a PAC known as "Conservative Principles for Florida." That committee is led by state Rep. Jose Oliva, a Miami Lakes Republican who is in line to become House speaker in 2018.

Other insurers that made large amounts of contributions included FCCI Insurance Group and related companies, which spent at least $242,000; MCNA Health Care Holdings and a related company, which spent at least $138,000; and Humana, which spent at least $110,000.

The finance reports make clear that committees tied to business groups play a key role in collecting and parceling out money. Publix, for example, made $463,000 in contributions during the three months, with $225,000 going to the Florida Chamber-linked "Florida Jobs PAC" and another $225,000 to a Florida Retail Federation political committee.

The reports also make clear the major role played by committees that are led or linked to individual politicians. For instance, a Florida Medical Association PAC gave $25,000 to "Growing Florida's Future," a committee linked to House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island; $25,000 to "Innovate Florida," a committee linked to Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton; and $25,000 to "The Conservative," a committee linked to Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

As might be expected with a state government completely controlled by Republicans, most of the large contributions during the first three months of the year were targeted at GOP-related committees or candidates. But Democrats also had their supporters.

As an example, the West Palm Beach-based law firm Searcy Denney Scarola Barnhart & Shipley contributed $52,500 to the Florida Democratic Party in January and February. The firm, however, also sent $25,000 to the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee and $15,000 to Galvano's "Innovate Florida" committee, according to the campaign-finance database.