Senate Candidates Pour Money Into Primaries

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – State Rep. Irv Slosberg, who hopes to move to the Florida Senate by taking down an incumbent in Tuesday’s Democratic primary, has dug deep into his personal bank account — $1.878 million — for a job that pays about $30,000 a year.

And while Slosberg’s self-funding total may dwarf the spending of other primary candidates, he’s not alone in using his private fortune to seek office this year.

In primary contests Tuesday, 11 state Senate candidates, including Slosberg, have loaned more than $100,000 to their campaigns, according to finance reports filed last week.

University of Central Florida political-science professor Aubrey Jewett called self-funding by candidates “a risky investment, but in most cases better odds than playing the lottery.”

“They do not look at it as a financial investment,” Jewett said. “Rather, they usually think that they are really the best person for the position and that they want to have influence over policy.”

Jewett added that some may also consider the spending a long-term investment.

“The pay for a state legislator is fairly low, but over time if one stays in office, there will be lots of opportunities for investments down the road and ways to earn money due at least in part to their elected position,” Jewett said.

There are 17 Senate primary contests being decided Tuesday.

Candidates have combined to spend more than $1 million in eight of those contests, with 28 candidates blowing through more than $100,000.

And those totals don’t include spending by political action committees run by interest groups or linked to politicians.

Candidates were required to meet a Friday deadline for filing finance reports showing activity from Aug. 13 through Thursday. Those reports give the final financial snapshots for campaigns before the primaries.

In his latest report, Slosberg added $770,000 of his own cash to a bid to win in Palm Beach County’s Senate District 31, bringing his total campaign loans to $1.878 million. The Boca Raton Democrat, who listed a net worth of nearly $9.5 million as of the end of 2015, had spent a little more than $1.8 million as of Thursday.

Slosberg’s main primary opponent, Sen. Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth, had loaned $20,000 to his campaign. But Clemens isn’t being completely outspent.

Clemens campaign had gone through $295,830 as of Thursday, and a political committee Clemens chairs, known as “Each Vote Counts,” had spent more than $662,000 since the start of July.

In another Palm Beach County contest, Senate District 30, trial attorney Michael Steinger of Palm Beach Gardens had loaned $665,000 to his campaign and spent an overall total of $877,250 as of Thursday.

Steinger is engaged in a bitter Democratic primary with Rep. Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach, who had spent $184,829.

To the south, attorney Jason Pizzo of North Miami Beach had loaned $770,000 to his campaign in Senate District 38 and spent $797,723, as he tries to separate himself from a crowded Democratic field to replace outgoing Sen. Gwen Margolis of Miami.

Pizzo, who made $220,000 of the loans between Aug. 13 and Thursday, has echoed other self-funders in calling the use of his own money a campaign strategy.

“It just seems better not to appear to be beholden to any particular group,” Pizzo said.

Former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora is the only other candidate in the six-way District 38 field to have crossed the $100,000 mark in spending, with $147,993 as of Thursday. Gongora has put up $50,000 of his own money.

Across the state, in a Democratic primary to replace Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa, Augie Ribeiro, a trial lawyer from St. Petersburg, had spent $672,075 as of Thursday. He had loaned $302,500 to his campaign and also made $200,000 in contributions.

Ribeiro’s opponents in Senate District 19 include Rep. Ed Narain of Tampa who had spent $195,846, Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg who had spent $148,855 and former Rep. Betty Reed of Tampa who had gone through $15,178.

In a Central Florida contest where the overall reported spending had fallen just short of the $1 million mark, two candidates had loaned their campaigns more than $300,000.

Republican Rep. Dennis Baxley of Ocala included an additional $100,000 loan in his latest filing, bringing his personal money in the Senate District 12 campaign to $360,000. Baxley had spent $511,136 overall.

Meanwhile, David Gee, a businessman living in The Villages retirement community, had loaned $310,000 to his campaign, while spending a total of $308,810.

The third Republican in the race, Rep. Marlene O’Toole of Lady Lake had spent $94,994.

And on the Space Coast, Vero Beach Republican Rep. Debbie Mayfield, who is running for the open Senate District 17 seat, had put up $500,000 of her own money as she tries to defeat Rep. Ritch Workman of Melbourne in Tuesday’s primary.

Overall, Mayfield, had spent $658,339, while Workman’s campaign had spent $434,986.

A third Republican in the primary, Mike Thomas, a physician assistant and state committeeman from Melbourne, had spent $19,358.

The lowest spending for any primary is the combined $45,244 spent by Democrats Frank Alcock, a political science professor at New College of Florida, and Frank Cirillo, a recent graduate of the University of South Florida. The two are running for the open, Republican-leaning District 23 seat that covers Sarasota County and western portions of Charlotte County.

The winner will face whoever emerges from a five-way Republican primary that features Reps. Greg Steube and Ray Pilon, former Rep. Doug Holder, former Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson and businessman Rick Levine.

As of Thursday, Holder had spent $316,200, Steube $298,413, Pilon $122,238, and Levine, $3,992. Patterson, who has put up $150,000 of her own money, had spent $309,104.

The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.

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