People in Southwest Florida are keenly interested in the results of Tuesday’s election.
Apparently, people outside Southwest Florida are too.
Groups and individuals as far away as Washington, D.C., and New Jersey are pouring tens of thousands of dollars into local races, doing so under the auspices of political action committees or similar outfits with noble names such as the Small Business Advocacy Council and the Conservative Values Project.
If you have spent any time watching TV or listening to the radio over the past few weeks, you have heard ads attacking one candidate for being too liberal, another for lacking values or others for being big spenders.
An examination of the founding and financing of the groups sponsoring the ads shows they have interests beyond just small business or values.
Take, for instance, Character Counts, a PAC that has been airing ads attacking Trey Radel, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House seat being vacated by Rep. Connie Mack. The ads say a company Radel owned a few years ago bought and sold racy Internet domain names, including onlinesexguide.com.
Radel dissolved the company in 2010 and said he wasn’t aware of every name bought and sold by his colleagues at the company. Once he found out about the questionable ones, he ordered they remain inactive until they expired, Radel explained earlier this year.
Character Counts has resurrected the episode in TV ads declaring Radel “Isn’t a serious candidate.” Federal records show Character Counts was formed in May of this year in Fairfax, Va. Its only contributor as of the latest financial reports is Frank W. Burr of Ho-Ho-Kus, N.J., who gave the group $100,000 upon its founding.
Burr also is a contributor to the campaign of Radel rival Chauncey Goss, having given him $5,000. Grace E. Burr, also of Ho-Ho-Kus, and Frank W. Burr Jr., both have given $5,000 to Goss.
Among the group’s reported expenditures is $15,000 to Berkowitz Public Affairs of Washington, D.C. The firm’s principle, Jeff Berkowitz, has been featured in USA Today and on National Public Radio discussing topics such as digging up dirt on political candidates.
Radel’s wife, former Fox 4 News anchorwoman Amy Wegmann, has appeared in ads decrying the attacks on her husband’s character.
But that isn’t the only counter measure being taken on Radel’s behalf.
A group called Conservative Values Project is airing an ad labeling Goss and Paige Kreegel, another Republican running for Mack’s seat, as big spenders. If you like the way government wastes money, the ad starts out, then Goss and Kreegel are your candidates.
The roots of Conservative Values Project also date back to May, when it was formed with a Fort Myers Post Office box as its address.
So far it has reported taking in $20,000, although its expenditures far in excess of that suggest more money may be rolling in with the next set of financial disclosures.
Reported donors to date include Bonne Posma, a Fort Myers resident who has given $5,000 to the group and $5,000 to Radel, and Darrell Smith, a Tampa resident who gave the group $5,000 and Radel $1,500.
The Oak Park, Mich., company Royal Container Corp., gave the group $5,000, as did Biotechnology Integration and Management of North Providence, R.I.
Royal Container officers Joseph A. Mooter, Justin A. Mooter Sr., and Justin Anthony Mooter have given Radel’s campaign a total of $11,000.
Biotechnology Integration principle Greg Mercurio Jr. gave Radel $1,000. Ironically, in addition to donating to Radel and Conservative Values Project, Mercurio over the years has given mainly to Democratic Party causes, including the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, Hillary Clinton and Patrick Kennedy.
Conservative Values Project disclosure forms show it has spent close to $11,000 on surveys and more than $100,000 on media buys.
The outpouring of committee cash isn’t confined to the race for Congress.
On Friday, residents in Collier County’s Commission District 3 found in their mailboxes a flier labeling incumbent Tom Henning as violent against women.
“What kind of man has domestic violence charges filed against him from both his wives?” the mailer begins.
On its front is a picture of a woman with a black eye fearfully looking at a silhouette of a man towering over her.
The card, paid for by the Small Business Advocacy Council of Tallahassee, includes a phone number purporting to be Henning’s and urges recipients to call him.
The allegations relate to civil, not criminal, cases against Henning.
The Small Business Advocacy Council was formed late last year and collected about $20,000 from other lobbying groups, the Economic Freedom Foundation, Citizens for an Enterprising Democracy, and Saving Florida’s Heartland.
Those groups in turn get funding from other PACs and committees. Ultimately, the money flowing to those groups comes from a conglomeration of corporations, including Disney, U.S. Sugar, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, HMA Corp. gambling and agriculture interests.
Lee County Commissioner Ray Judah is being targeted as “too liberal” in ads by the group Florida First.
The ad’s themes, that Lee County spends too much money and erred in building a new stadium for the Boston Red Sox, echo those of Larry Kiker, the Fort Myers Beach mayor who is challenging Judah.
Florida First has raised almost $600,000 since its beginning in 2010. Of that amount, only $1,000 came from a Lee County donor, state elections records show.
Its contributions come largely from other political committees such as the Florida Liberty Fund and Principle Centered Leadership. Principle Centered Leadership gets a large part of its money from another group, Florida Forward.
A check of Florida Forward’s contributions shows it gets much of its money from Disney and groups including Florida Jobs PAC and the Committee for a Conservative House.
Those two groups show major contributions from U.S. Sugar, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida and Publix.
Florida First’s biggest expenditure this year has been an $86,000 media buy in July.
Lest one think the maze of money in politics is limited to conservative groups and corporations, be reminded a similar web of liberal-leaning groups tracing their financing to unions and trial lawyers exists as well.
Bottom line: Attempts to get big money out of politics haven’t worked. The best we can hope for is a measure of transparency.