Will Everglades Trust-tied committee outspend Ray Rodrigues in SD 27?

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His campaign says no, but the numbers suggest otherwise.

A political committee slamming Ray Rodrigues with negative ads in Southwest Florida enjoyed a massive mid-June cash infusion.

The Estero Republican still enjoys a cash advantage over primary opponent Heather Fitzenhagen in terms of their campaign accounts. But In Florida We Trust, a committee formed in June, has already poured six figures into the race, mostly in negative advertising against Rodrigues.

This raises a question once unthinkable. Could Rodrigues be outspent in the race for Senate District 27?

The Rodrigues campaign doesn’t think so.

“We will not be outspent by a group of environmental radicals, who seem to be more concerned with putting Florida’s farmers out of business than getting Planned Parenthood’s favorite politician Heather Fitzenhagen elected to office,” said Rodrigues campaign manager Terry Miller.

That said, as of Feb. 17 the group held more cash on hand than any other entity directly tied to the race.

Rodrigues’ campaign, through July 17, had $60,541 cash on hand. That’s after spending $421,780 since launching the campaign last May.

His total still triples Fitzenhagen, who entered the race the last day of qualifying and couldn’t take any money from an abandoned Congressional campaign with her. In short order she raised $90,987 but had just $20,377 at the end of the last fundraising period.

The campaigns themselves only represent part of the story.

From July 11-17 alone, In Florida We Trust collected $242,500. In all, it’s pulled in $399,500. About $250,000 of that has come from the Everglades Water Trust. George Husted, a consultant with Axiom Strategies, chairs the committee.

At the close of the last reporting period, the committee raised $242,500 in new contributions and reported $209,491 cash on hand. While the organization has frequently reported spending more than it has, it’s continued to aggressively fundraise in the weeks heading into the final month of campaigning.

That’s a bigger pot of money than any other entity devoting its resources seemingly exclusively to the Senate District 27 race.

But there’s certainly other committees throwing money around — and more with the potential to enter at any moment.

Both Republicans in the primary control affiliated political committees.

For A Better Florida, a committee affiliated with Fitzenhagen, spent $62,961 from the time she entered the Senate race and July 17. It held $23,807 in cash at last report.

Rodrigues, meanwhile, controls two committees. Free Markets For Florida holds $24,002 in cash, having spent $100,050 since Fitzenhagen jumped into the primary, though that includes $100,000 donated to Americans for Liberty and Prosperity.

The Friends of Ray Rodrigues committee also donated $530,000 to Americans for Liberty and Prosperity. That was part of $580,534 the group  spent since Fitzenhagen’s entry into the primary. As of July 17, the committee still had $22,039.

That means In Florida We Trust has more money than Rodrigues and both his committees combined. But with so much Rodrigues-connected money going to a single outside group, it’s worth checking those campaign resources as well.

The William Jones-chaired Americans for Liberty and Prosperity formed in 2018 and has disbursed money to campaigns around Florida, including $1,000 to the Rodrigues campaign, but also other Senate candidates elsewhere in Florida, including Danny Burgess, Jennifer Bradley and Ileana Garcia.

The committee has spent little in the last couple months, but raised heaps. Of the $694,865 the committee raised since the start of June, $630,000 of it has come from Rodrigues’ committees.

Miller said donations to the group are meant to help get Republicans elected to seats around Florida.

That group reported about $714,863 cash on hand as of July 24. It will become clear in the next few weeks how much of that will go to helping a particular Republican get elected in Senate District 27.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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