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Jennifer Webb

Jennifer Webb passes Ray Blacklidge in total fundraising, cash on hand

With her end-of-August campaign finance report, St. Petersburg Democrat Jennifer Webb has officially surpassed Madeira Beach Republican Ray Blacklidge in campaign fundraising.

Webb and Blacklidge are vying for the House District 69 seat currently held by state Rep. Kathleen Peters, who is now the Republican nominee for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission.

The small-business woman raised about $7,900 from Aug. 24 through the end of the month, bringing her fundraising total to about $181,500 since she entered the race to succeed Peters late last year. That puts her ahead of her opponent by about $3,500 in campaign fundraising.

“It’s clear that voters are attracted to our community-centered campaign, and they understand what’s at stake with this election,” Webb said in a press release touting her fundraising efforts.

“I’m grateful for the voters that continue to support our campaign. I’m committed to creating an environment where hardworking families and local businesses can thrive together,” she continued. “I will fight for clean waterways, shore up our schools and infrastructure, and ensure that families suffering from mental health or substance use can access much-needed treatment.”

Thanks to one-time Democratic candidate Javier Centonzio stepping aside, Webb was able to make it through primary season without facing a challenger. Blacklidge wasn’t as fortunate.

The Madeira Beach attorney went up against St. Petersburg attorney Jeremy Bailie in a head-to-head that ended up being a 58-42 percent rout, but it took nearly all of his war chest to do so — Blacklidge spent nearly $71,000 in the two weeks leading up to the primary election, most of it heading to Front Line Strategies, a Tallahassee-based consulting shop that offers an array of advertising and campaign services.

His final August report showed a single $1,000 check, bringing him to $178,082 in total hard money fundraising. Excluding self-funding, he’s brought in $142,284. Either way you slice it, he only had $2,500 of those funds left to spend heading into September.

While Webb has taken the lead when it comes to hard money, Blacklidge also has an affiliated political committee, Friends of Ray Blacklidge, that has brought in $52,210 this cycle. The committee’s cupboard is just as bare as his campaign account’s with about $2,600 at the ready.

Those figures also give Webb a massive lead in cash on hand. She started September with $88,820 in hard money in her account while Blacklidge had $5,123 between his campaign and committee.

The one advantage for Blacklidge: Since he faced an opponent in the primary, all the donors chipped in max contributions during the primary — 104 at last count — may do so again for the general election according to the state code governing campaign finance.

Webb hasn’t relied as heavily on $1,000 checks; they make up about a third of her total fundraising, with the average of her 1162 monetary donors chipping in about $158.33, leaving plenty of room for those supporters to keep up with small-dollar donations. By comparison, Blacklidge’s average donor has given $483.95.

HD 69 includes part of St. Petersburg and the communities of Redington Beach, Madeira Beach, Treasure Island, South Pasadena and Gulfport. Republicans have a slim lead in voter registrations in the district, which voted plus-3 for Donald Trump in 2016.

Webb was also the Democratic nominee two years ago, but lost by 13 percentage points on Election Day. The lack of an incumbent, the possibility of a “blue wave” and her strong fundraising — she’s outdone her 2016 tally and has $37,000 more banked than she did at the same checkpoint two years ago — will lead to the Pinellas County district flipping blue.

The next round of campaign finance reports, covering the first two weeks of September, are due to the state on Sept. 21.

Democratic governors donate another $1 million to Andrew Gillum’s committee

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s independent political committee Forward Florida received a second $1 million cash influx Tuesday from the Democratic Governors Association.

The DGA first signaled its full backing of the surprise Democratic nominee with a $1 million donation Aug. 29, one day after he knocked off U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and others in the Democratic primary.

Now it’s doubling down.

“Andrew Gillum has strong grassroots momentum behind his campaign to rebuild Florida so that it works for everyone,” DGA Executive Director Elisabeth Pearson stated in a news release. “This additional $1 million investment will allow him to communicate his positive message across the state, and build on the momentum he has already created.

“Andrew Gillum is focused on increasing access to health care, improving Florida’s public schools, and growing the state’s economy, and that’s why he will be Florida’s next governor.”

Gillum faces Republican gubernatorial nominee U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis.

Until two weeks ago, Forward Florida mainly was the depository for several big-name progressive national rainmakers such as George Soros and Tom SteyerIn the first week after the primary, the committee’s fundraising more than doubled with the first DGA donation, plus another $1 million from Connecticut philanthropist Donald Sussman, and some five- and six-figure checks from other progressive donors.

Tough primary drains Matt Caldwell’s coffers

A fierce four-way primary for Agriculture Commissioner left Republican nominee Matt Caldwell running low on funds as the general-election campaign got underway, according to numbers posted on the state Division of Elections website.

Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, attorney and medical-marijuana lobbyist Nikki Fried, had a little more than $220,000 on hand as September began, even as she once again had to find a new bank for her campaign account.

Caldwell, a state House member from North Fort Myers, started September with about $72,000 in cash on hand in his personal campaign account and the political committee Friends of Matt Caldwell, finance reports show.

As of Aug. 31, Friends of Matt Caldwell had raised $1,794,744, while spending $1,788,846. The spending included $763,808 on advertising between Aug. 11 and the Aug. 28 primary. Caldwell’s personal campaign account had raised $833,881 and spent $767,352 as of Aug. 31, including $178,500 for advertising in the final weeks of the campaign.

Caldwell received nearly 37 percent of the 1.5 million votes cast in the GOP primary.

Meanwhile, Fried, who handily defeated two other Democrats in the primary, started September with $112,844 available in her campaign account. Fried’s political committee, Florida Consumers First, had $111,823 on hand as of Aug. 31.

Fried drew attention last month after Wells Fargo announced it was closing her campaign account because of her ties to the medical-marijuana industry. Wells Fargo issued a statement that it had to “comply with federal law on the topic of marijuana, even in instances where state laws may differ.”

Fried said Monday during a media conference call that she also was informed Aug. 29 by BB&T that an account she had opened was being closed.

Fried said BB&T singled her out for her “political views and my advocacy to expand patient access to medical marijuana in Florida.” She said she’s been approached by a state bank about handling her finances.

Andrew Gillum

Andrew Gillum has raised $4M since becoming Democratic nominee for Governor

In the first week since becoming the Democratic nominee for Governor, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum collected more than $4 million in contributions between his campaign and committee accounts.

Team Gillum raked in $4.03 million during the reporting period covering Aug. 25-31, including $1.7 million in hard money and another $2.3 million for his affiliated political committee, Forward Florida.

The Gillum for Governor campaign heads into the general election with unprecedented grassroots support,” said Gillum spokesman Geoff Burgan.

This campaign is powered by people who are ready for bold, progressive change. Floridians know that as governor, Mayor Gillum will work tirelessly to rebuild our state so that it works for everyone — and that’s why they are rallying behind him.”

The new reports go down as the best for each account since Gillum entered the race for Governor in February of last year. The prior high watermark for his campaign account was his $510,000 report for the first week of August, while the committee former high score was $1 million raised during the 13-day reporting period directly preceding the Aug. 28 primary election.

The campaign report is nearly 40,000 lines long and matching funds didn’t buoy the total. There were several dozen max checks at the top of the ledger, but small-dollar donors dominated — the account received more than 27,000 contributions of $25 or less.

The committee report was a stub by comparison, but it featured a pair of $1 million checks at the top, one from the Democratic Governors Association and another from Connecticut philanthropist Donald Sussman. Floridabased philanthropist Marsha Laufer, the wife of Henry Laufer, chipped in $250,000, while smaller checks came in from attorney Vincent Pawlowski, Democratic donor Cynthia Friedman of Palm Beach, Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy and U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

The $4 million week represents more than a third of Gillum’s $11.1 million in fundraising thus far. He finished the month with a combined $4.23 million banked.

Gillum’s Republican rival, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, had a comparatively light week.

His campaign account showed $276,000 in new money across 2,443 contributions, including about two dozen for the campaign max of $3,000. His political committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis, posted a $246,000 haul. That report was topped by a $100,000 check from the Florida Chamber of Commerce affiliated Florida Jobs PAC, and also included $50,000 checks from billionaire Casino owner Phil Ruffin and Doral-based Sunshine Gasoline Distributors as well as $25,000 from a political committee tied to CD 1 U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz.

DeSantis has raised a total of $18.3 million since he launched his gubernatorial bid in January. He entered September with a combined $1.52 million in the bank.

Gillum and DeSantis will face off in the November general election. On Thursday, both men announced their running mates for the fall, with Gillum selecting businessman and former Democratic primary rival and Chris King and DeSantis selecting Miami state Rep. Jeanette Nuñez.

Election Day is Nov. 6.

gruters

Joe Gruters holding Tallahassee fundraiser for SD 23 bid

Sarasota Republican Rep. Joe Gruters will be raising cash in Tallahassee later this month for his bid to succeed Greg Steube in Senate District 23.

The Sept. 18 reception will be held in the library of the Governors Club, 202 South Adams St., from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Those looking to attend can direct their RSVPs to Kristin Lamb via Kristin@FLFStrategies.com or 850-339-5354.

Gruters is the chair of the Sarasota County Republican Party and also served as co-chair Donald Trump’s Florida campaign. He was elected to House District 73 two years ago in a blowout win against Democratic nominee James Golden.

Before Gruters’ House re-election campaign got fully underway, there was a seismic shakeup in the Sarasota delegation caused by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s announcement that he would not seek re-election in Florida’s 17th Congressional District.

Steube, just two years into his first term in the state Senate, and Venice Rep. Julio Gonzalez declared for the race and Steube ultimately won the Republican nomination with ease.

Still, that left SD 23 open and gave Gruters the opportunity to make the jump to the state Senate years earlier than he would otherwise. His only opponent in the Republican-leaning seat is Democratic nominee Faith Olivia Babis.

As of Aug. 23, Gruters had more than $115,000 in hard money in the bank with another $13,000 or so in his affiliated political committee, Friends of Joe Gruters PC. When Gruters files his next round of reports, he’ll show at least $3,500 in contributions thanks to state Rep. Ben Albritton helping out fellow Republican Senate candidates last month.

Babis, meanwhile, has only raised a little over $25,000 for her campaign and has about $5,000 in the bank. Her lax adherence to state campaign finance laws earlier on in the race led to the Florida Division of Elections levying some hefty fees against her, though they are currently being appealed by elections attorney Mark Herron.

SD 23 covers all of Sarasota County and a portion of coastal Charlotte County. Trump carried the district by 15 points two years ago as Steube defeated Democratic challenger Frank Alcock 59-41 percent.

Election Day is Nov. 6. The fundraiser invitation is below.

Jimmy Patronis passes $5 million mark in fundraising

Jimmy Patronis has hit another fundraising milestone, crossing the $5 million mark in his campaign to hold onto his position as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer.

Patronis met the mark after a full accounting of August fundraising numbers. In total, his campaign raised nearly $230,000 in August. Patronis’ political committee, Treasure Florida, added about $350,000 on top of that.

He’s now raised more than $5.1 million between his campaign and committee overall.

Jeremy Ring, Patronis’ Democratic opponent, is lagging a bit behind when it comes to contributions. His campaign has earned more than $380,000 in total outside contributions. Ring has tacked on another $192,000 in loans to his campaign.

Ring’s political committee, Florida Action Fund PC, has pulled in nearly $700,000 as of Aug 24. Numbers for the final week of August have not yet been added to the Florida Division of Elections website.

Ring’s money deficit didn’t stop him from releasing an ad going after Patronis, calling him Florida’s “Chief Fraud Officer.”

That’s after Patronis accused a Democratic researcher of posing as Patronis to access his personal records.

Patronis was appointed to the CFO position in 2017 after former CFO Jeff Atwater resigned. He’s now Vice President of Strategic Initiatives and Chief Financial Officer at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Central Florida Republicans start House general campaigns with strong financial edges

Several Central Florida Republican Florida House candidates entered the fall general election with solid financial advantages over their Democratic challengers.

That was the case with several House incumbent members seeking re-election and also is the case for David Smith who is running to win an open seat for Florida’s House District 28. It’s not the case with Democrats, excepting Anna Eskamani.

Neither Smith, a Winter Springs business consultant, nor Democratic nominee Lee Mangold, a Casselberry cyber-security business owner, had a primary challenge in HD 28 in northeast Seminole County. So both enter the fall stretch without having had to spend much, and Smith enters with a decided advantage in campaign cash.

Smith, who lent his campaign $85,000 to start, also had raised $146,000 through more than 1,300 contributions. Even though he spent considerably this year he still came through last Tuesday’s primary season with $136,118 left in the bank, according to the most recent campaign finance reports available through the Florida Division of Elections, covering activity through Aug. 23, the final report before the primary.

Mangold entered the general election campaign season with $15,265, built from a fairly robust 367 donations, plus $10,000 he lent his own campaign, minus more than $21,000 he has spent so far on his campaign.

Smith’s $120,000 campaign finance advantage was the third-best cushion heading into the fall election of any Central Florida Florida House candidates, behind only Democrat Eskamani and Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes, who also did not have primary challengers.

In House District 47 race in Orange County, first-time candidate Eskamani of Orlando reported having raised more than $309,000 in her official campaign fund and another $36,000 in an independent political campaign, putting her about $300,000 ahead of Republican nominee Stockton Reeves VI of Winter Park, who had to win a primary to enter the fall campaign. On Tuesday she reported that her next reports will put her over $350,000 raised. Reeves, who had to win a tough Republican primary, entered the fall with about $41,000 in his account.

Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, enters the fall campaign with $135,081 in the bank for the HD 30 race in south Seminole and north Orange counties. His Democratic opponent, Maitland City Councilwoman Joy Goff-Marcil, emerged from a highly competitive three-way Democratic primary with just $3,657 left in her campaign account.

Republican state Reps. Scott Plakon of Sanford in Seminole County’s House District 29 and Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden in Orange County’s House District 44, who also had no primary challenges while their Democratic opponents did, also emerged into the fall with sizable money advantages.

That wasn’t the case across the board. Several incumbent Florida House members who had primary challengers enter the fall campaign a bit financially spent, including state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic in District 52 in Brevard County, who spent so much to win his primary that his autumn opponent, Democrat Seeta Begui of Melbourne, a first-time candidate, actually starts the fall campaign with more than a $3,000 campaign money advantage in the bank, according to reports through Aug. 23.

None of the Democratic members of the Florida House seeking re-election enter the fall with much financial advantage.

First-time Republican candidate Ben Griffin of Orlando was given $50,000 by the Republican Party of Florida to run against Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando in House District 49 in Orange County, and Griffin raised only another $3,260 on his own. Still, Smith starts the fall campaign with only a $15,476 advantage.

In House District 48 in Orange County, Democratic state Rep. Amy Mercado‘s Republican opponent has raised no money, but she hasn’t raised much either. So Mercado, of Orlando, enters the fall campaign with a $17,262 campaign finance advantage over George Chandler of Orlando.

Among the other Central Florida races for the Florida House:

— Plakon entered the fall HD 29 campaign in Seminole County with $98,541 in the bank, compared with $8,582 for Democrat Tracey Kagan of Longwood.

— Republican state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mout Dora entered the fall campaign for HD 30 with $53,827 in the bank in the House District 31 race in Lake and Orange counties, compared with $6,264 for Democrat Debra Kaplan of Eustis.

— Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud had $81,894 in his campaign account entering the fall House District 42 race in Osceola County, compared with $25,392 for Democratic challenger Barbara Cady of Kissimmee.

— Olszewski came into the fall with $120,166 in the HD 44 contest, while former state Sen. Geraldine Thompson of Orlando, who had to win a Democratic primary, enters with $9,532, according to reports through Aug. 23.

— Republican state Rep. Rene Plasencia of Orlando had to spend big to stave off a primary challenger, and so he entered the fall with just $36,309 to defend his House District 50 seat in east Orange County and north Brevard County, while Democrat Pam Dirschka of Titusville came into the fall campaign with $7,745 in the bank.

Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island, who also had to spend big to win a Republican primary. He came into the fall House District 51 race in north Brevard County with just $12,460 in the bank, compared with $7,152 for Democrat Mike Blake of Cocoa.

Anna Eskamani clears $350K in her fundraising for HD 47

Democrat Anna Eskamani has raised more than $350,000 in her bid for Florida House District 47, her campaign announced Tuesday.

The amount, according to her campaign, is an extraordinary total for a first-time candidate to a Florida House seat. It speaks to both her campaign’s fundraising prowess and to the unusual phenomenon of her campaign, which has drawn national attention as a 28-year-old progressive, landing Eskamani on the covers of national magazines for her run for a relatively obscure political position.

Yet, it does not necessarily reflect her chances of victory in a purple district in which she’s facing an experienced political hand in Republican nominee Stockton Reeves VI, who last week dispatched his Republican primary rival Mikaela Nix in tough and highly contentious battle.

The two are battling over a seat held by Republican state Rep. Mike Miller who is running for Congress. It has flipped twice in the past three elections, serving north and central Orange County including downtown Orlando.

Eskamani’s declaration that she has topped $350,000, from 2,200 individual donors, includes at least $309,000 into her official campaign and another $36,000 into her independent political committee, People Power For Florida, according to the latest posted state campaign finance reports. Those totals do not include her most recent contributions since Aug. 23 for her official campaign.

“I never thought I would run for office one day,” Eskamani stated in a news release issued Tuesday. “My drive to hold politicians accountable and fight for Florida families is grounded in my lived experiences and the personal loss of my Mom when I was thirteen years old. I want to build a state where no kid loses their parent, and no parent loses their kid. This is personal for me, and I am honored to be paving the way for the next generation of leaders in Florida.”

She emerged from last Tuesday’s primary season — she was unopposed after a Democratic challenger dropped out — with more than $254,000 in the bank. Reeves, who donated $94,000 to his own campaign, entered the post-primary period with about $41,000 in the bank.

Florida Senate Republicans to raise cash at the U.S. Open

With a number of competitive races slated for the 2018 ballot, Florida Senate Republicans are planning a grand slam of a fundraiser at the U.S. Open in New York City next month.

According to an invitation sent out by the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, the main committee supporting GOP state Senate campaigns, donors who sign up will get to attend a “VIP Dinner” at Quality Italian the night before they catch day 4 of the hard court tennis tournament Wednesday, Aug. 29.

There’s no minimum donation listed on the invite, but it’s likely attendees will have to show FRSCC some serious love — which assuredly doesn’t mean “zero” in this case — in order to rub elbows at the multiday event.

If that isn’t enticing enough, the invitation says donors could also get a private tennis lesson with Nick Bollettieri, the hall of fame tennis coach who developed tennis legends Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, Monica Seles and others. Don’t expect the octogenarian to make you run cross court, however.

Florida Democrats have their eyes on six Republican-held districts this fall: Gainesville-based SD 8, the Tampa Bay area’s SD 16, SD 18 and SD 24, Lakeland’s SD 22 and Miami’s SD 36.

Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano has headed up fundraising duties for FRSCC since last summer, and the committee’s three quarterly reports since he took over have been aces. Through March 31, he had helped reel in $7 million for the committee, including a record-breaking haul in the third quarter of 2017.

It’ll take even more cash, however, if Republicans want to pull off the vaunted double bagel — that means 6-0 for non-tennis folk.

The latest deadline for FRSCC report was Aug. 24, days before Tuesday’s primary election. Money brought during the NYC fundraiser will be reported included in the finance report due Nov. 2.

The invitation is below.

Amol Jethwani

House candidate spends campaign cash on haircuts, clothes and burritos

Democratic state House candidate Amol Jethwani has been successful in getting young voters energized for down ballot races in Gainesville, a quality that hasn’t gone unnoticed by established Democratic politicians such as St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman, who has endorsed his bid for House District 21.

Though he surely has a promising future in politics, the campaign finance reports for this first-time candidate show a troubling trend: Using donor money for personal expenses.

No, Jethwani isn’t paying for his car insurance or his apartment on the backs of those who support him. He has, however, dipped his hand into the kitty for things like haircuts, meals and a suit.

For those imagining the University of Florida poli sci major snagging a $1,000 suit from Brooks Brothers followed by a $400 John Edwards-style haircut and filet at Bern’s, think smaller. Much smaller. Think a $344 trip to Dillards, a $30 trim at Hair Plus and $14 lunch at Chipotle.

When it comes to the suit and haircuts, Jethwani does seem to be take a Scott Maddox-like approach to justifying the spending: It was necessary for the viability of his campaign.

“The charges to Dillards and Zara were for formal clothing for campaign events — a suit and formal wear which I was not able to afford at the time as a student. In that same category, the haircuts expensed to the account were specifically for candidate appearance for campaign events and media production,” Jethwani said in a statement to Florida Politics.

When it came to other questions about the campaign’s ledger, including the food purchases and cash withdrawals that on more than one occasion broke the state elections code regulating petty cash expenditures, Jethwani was willing to take some responsibility.

“Where the petty cash withdrawals are concerned, I accept full responsibility and acknowledge my error in judgement in not understanding the guidelines set forth by the Florida Division of Elections for withdrawing funds for petty cash,” he said. “The withdrawals were to obtain petty cash for campaign expenditures. While not reported correctly, the funds were directed for campaign use and as such I will be repaying the campaign in full for the expenses paid for with petty cash.

“The food purchases encompassed a portion of on-the-go snacks for volunteers while campaigning in addition to on-the-go meals while traveling to events,” he added. “I am taking responsibility for my actions by repaying the campaign for any flagged expenditures, I will be repaying the campaign for a portion of funds expensed on meals, and additionally, I will be repaying the campaign for our petty cash expenditures. It is my continued goal to be transparent and to display accountability.”

Jethwani is running against Jason Haeseler in the Democratic primary for HD 21, which encompasses Gilchrist and Dixie counties as well as a portion of Alachua County.

The winner of Tuesday’s primary battle will face an tough, though not impossible general election against incumbent Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons. Clemons carried the seat with 54 percent of the vote two years ago, though President Donald Trump narrowly lost the district to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Update, 9:30 p.m. — Jethwani’s apology and promise to pay back the flagged expenditures was not enough for the UF College Democrats, where Jethwani served as president. The group put out the following statement hours after Florida Politics published this post:

“In light of recent allegations, the UF College Democrats President, Amol Jethwani, has resigned from his position within College Democrats. Despite not fully knowing the severity of the situation, UFCD in no way condones the described actions, and our executive board members have taken steps to separate our organization from Amol and the claims against him,” the group said in a Facebook post.

“In the meantime, UF College Democrats will continue to work towards our goal of getting Democrats elected to office under our interim President, Kristen Jackson.”

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