By the numbers
Candidates often have money in their campaign coffers when the time period closes to get their name on the ballot and they find out they don’t have an opponent. Here’s a breakdown of how much unopposed candidates in Collier and Lee counties raised and spent as of March 31, the most recent campaign finance reporting period.
Lee Property Appraiser Kenneth Wilkinson received $9,045, spent $526.21
Collier Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards received $2,400, spent $455
Collier School Board member Kathleen Curatolo received $2,450, spent $0
Collier School Board member Julie Sprague received $600, spent $151.45
State Sen. Garrett Richter received $164,303, spent $3,520
NAPLES — The money starts rolling in the minute most candidates file to run for office. A donation here, a personal loan there. The cash is used for filing fees, advertising and a variety of other campaign expenses.
But when candidates are elected without opposition, they're faced with an unexpected question: What to do with the money supporters gave them to help knock out the competition.
More than a dozen candidates in Collier and Lee counties were deemed instant winners when the time period closed earlier this month for candidates to get their name on the 2012 ballot. That means the unopposed candidate will take office without a vote being cast.
But that doesn't mean those candidates didn't raise money. For example, Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, had more than $164,300 in cash on hand when he ended his campaign, according to finance reports submitted to the state.
Dave Carpenter, a qualifying officer for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections Office, said candidates often begin fundraising once they announce their intent to run. One reason, he said, is to help pay for the cost of qualifying.
Candidates either qualify through petition or by paying a qualifying fee paid for from a campaign checking account. That means candidates either need to raise or loan the campaign money to keep the bank account open.
Collier County's unopposed local candidates had a combined $4,856 in total contributions, according to campaign finance reports covering the reporting period ending March 31.
That sum was raised by three candidates: Supervisor of Elections Jennifer Edwards, and Collier County School Board members Kathleen Curatolo and Julie Sprague.
In Lee County, Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson won his election when no one ran against him. Wilkinson, according to campaign finance reports, received $8,945 in cash and checks, and a $100 personal loan, bringing his total monetary contributions to $9,045.
But that money can't just sit in a candidate's savings account collecting interest until the next campaign. Carpenter said candidates have 90 days to close out an account after the campaign ends. That means candidates have to find a way to disburse the money they've raised.
Florida law states that candidates can do several things with the money, including return unspent money to their donors prorated, give it to the candidate's political party or donate it to charity.
Sprague said she plans to do the latter.
Sprague said she received donations varying in amount from more than 85 people and decided it would be too difficult to prorate and give the money back to donors. So instead of sending their checks back, she shot supporters an email asking for permission to give it to a children's charity. The response, she said, was overwhelmingly positive.
"It goes to a good cause and I'm all about kids," she said. "That's what I did last time when I had a few hundred dollars around."
Local candidates aren't the only ones who face the leftover money quandary. Candidates running for state positions — like state representative or senator — must follow the same guidelines when it comes to shutting down their campaign accounts.
Thirty state House members and eight Senate members ran unopposed campaigns in 2012. Richter was among those who won unopposed.
Richter said he still doesn't know how he's going to distribute the $164,300, but knows he definitely will give some of it to charity.
"Charities that get my attention are ones that support children and youth," he said. "It's my plan to sit down over the next three weeks or so and map out a good direction. It's a nice problem to have."