Fla. GOP rakes in the campaign cash

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, left, and Senator Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando join Gov. Rick Scott, right, in greeting guests prior to Scott delivering his State of the State address Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convened today for its annual 60-day session. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

Rep. Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, left, and Senator Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando join Gov. Rick Scott, right, in greeting guests prior to Scott delivering his State of the State address Tuesday, March 5, 2013, in the Florida House of Representatives in Tallahassee, Fla. The Florida Legislature convened today for its annual 60-day session. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

TALLAHASSEE -- Little more than a year before the 2014 elections, the Republican Party of Florida and its leaders are showing their financial muscle.

The state GOP raised about $5.1 million between July 1 and Sept. 30, more than three times the $1.44 million raised by the Florida Democratic Party, according to totals on the state Division of Elections website.

What's more, the three GOP state Cabinet members --- Attorney General Pam Bondi, Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam --- combined to raise nearly $1.2 million during the three months, while the Democrats do not have a name-brand candidate in any of the Cabinet races.

Large amounts of money also flowed to some GOP legislative leaders. As an example, Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, collected $208,462 during the three-month period, bringing the overall total for her re-election campaign to $410,887. Benacquisto does not have an opponent at this point.

Similarly, Rep. Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who is slated to become House speaker after the 2014 elections, raised $155,183 during the July-through-September quarter, giving him a total of $222,883.

Another example is House Majority Whip Dana Young, R-Tampa, who reported raising $102,561 during the quarter and a total of $173,711. Both Crisafulli and Young are unopposed.

State candidates, parties and political committees faced a Thursday night deadline for filing their third-quarter finance reports, which continued to trickle onto the state Division of Elections website throughout the day.

The Republican fund-raising dominance is nothing new, as the party has controlled the governor's office since the 1998 election and both chambers of the Legislature for even longer. But the new numbers reinforce the financial advantage that the GOP will have going into an election year in which the governor's office, the Cabinet offices and House and Senate seats will be in play.

Gov. Rick Scott has not opened a campaign account for his re-election bid. But the "Let's Get to Work" political committee, which is closely aligned with his campaign, collected $4.4 million during the quarter and has reeled in more than $13 million this year, according to the reports.

Former House Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, is the only prominent Democrat who has announced that she will run for the governor's office --- though former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist is widely expected to announce he will run as a Democrat. Rich's updated campaign-finance information was not posted on the state website Thursday afternoon.

Bondi's numbers also had not been posted, but her campaign said it would report that she raised $624,594 during the quarter --- her first since opening a campaign account. Putnam, meanwhile, raised $209,094 during the quarter, bringing his total to $800,105.

Atwater raised $343,116 during the three months, giving him an overall amount of $538, 241. A potential challenger also emerged this week for Atwater, as Deerfield Beach Democrat William Rankin opened a campaign account to run for chief financial officer.

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