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ActBlue, Democrats’ PACS, Full Sail leaders kick-start Stephanie Murphy’s CD 7 campaign

When Rollins College professor and investment executive Stephanie Murphy came out of almost nowhere in late June to become the Democratic nominee in Florida’s 7th Congressional District, she had three groups ready to support her.

Support her they did, as Murphy raised more than $126,000 in the first nine days of her campaign to show a credible start against Winter Park Republican U.S. Rep. John Mica, a 12-term institution in CD 7 who hasn’t had a close election in this century.

This year Democrats think things might be different, and they and ActBlue, the organization that solicits individual contributions nationwide for Democrats, have been laying in wait all year, for a credible candidate to enter the race against Mica.

The third big, early benefactor, a group of executives at Full Sail University, is more like family.

The Democrats hope redistricting has reduced the Republican voter advantage to close to nil, while demographic changes in the district, which covers northern Orange County and Seminole County, may be making Mica more vulnerable regardless.

Mica raised only a little more during the entire 90-day reporting quarter —$154,000 — than Murphy did in nine days, from her filing date of June 22 through the end of the second-quarter reporting period, June 30. Still, Mica’s been raising money for a long time and rarely needing to spend much to get re-elected, and he’s sitting comfortably with $766,000 in the bank if he needs it, and a fundraising organization that’s well tied in to donors in Orlando and Washington.

Much of Murphy’s money might have been pent-up Democratic contributions waiting for a beneficiary, plus the third big entity that may be a powerful benefactor for her.

With Murphy entering the race, ActBlue, quickly raised $42,446 for her, including contributions from such stalwarts as U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham from Tallahassee and former Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, according to campaign finance reports posted by the Federal Election Commission. A variety Democratic political action committees, from U.S. Reps. Nancy Pelosi‘s and Debbie Wasserman Schultz‘s PACs, quickly brought in more than $30,000.

Full Sail University is an Orange County proprietary school that has grown extraordinarily rapidly in the past 20 years, developing a huge campus just outside of Winter Park, and has become a worldwide-leader in entertainment technologies education. Full Sail also has long been a quiet, behind-the-scenes political player, and that includes regular and generous campaign donations from its leaders.

The top executives and board members of the school have donated hundreds of thousands of dollars over the past 20 years to parties, PACs and candidates at all levels, from Orange County and city races to presidential campaigns. And while big-name Republicans such as Govs. Jeb Bush and Rick Scott and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney have made sure to pay homage to Full Sail, its leaders’ money has been pretty split between Republicans and Democrats over the years.

Now they have one of their own to support — Murphy — who was registered as an independent voter until she joined the Democrats the week she filed to run as one.

Murphy, 37, is married into the family of Full Sail Co-Chairman Edward H. Haddock Jr. She is his step-daughter-in-law. She also is an executive at Sungate Capital, an investment company associated, through common owners and addresses, with Full Sail.

Full Sail executives and their spouses pitched in at least $18,000 during the first nine days of Murphy’s campaign, not including the $11,000 that she lent her own campaign, or another $5,000 she received from other family members. The contributions include the maximum donation of $5,400 from Haddock, $2,700 from Full Sail President Garry Jones and $2,000 from Full Sail Chief Operating Officer Kenneth Goldstone. There is no report of any contributions in the first nine days from Full Sail founder and CEO James Heavener, who historically has been the biggest campaign contributor at the university.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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