On Tuesday, voters head to the polls to decide a bitter special Republican primary for Florida's 19th district. The GOP winner will be the hands down favorite to win the general election in the conservative district formerly represented by Trey Radel, R, who resigned in the wake of an arrest for cocaine possession. Radel's departure — and former Republican congressman Connie Mack IV's decision not to run — paved the way for a bitter three way race in the Southwest Florida district. Candidates and outside groups have levied charges of ethical improprieties and pseudo-conservatism in an influence war that has cost over $6 million all told. With the aid of Sunlight tools, here are three quick insights into the moneyed interests behind the ad wars.
Clawson outspent his competitors thanks to personal wealth
The campaign committee of Curt Clawson, the Harvard-educated businessman, spent more than $2.2 million producing TV and internet ads, printing mailers and paying consultants in the abbreviated election cycle. So, who does Clawson have to thank for this political largesse? Mostly, himself. Clawson for Congress received $3.4 million from the candidate compared to just under $210,000 raised from other sources — mostly individual donors based in the Sunshine state.
While Clawson leads in recent polls and scored the endorsement of retired Rep. Connie Mack IV, he hasn't gotten much boost from independent political groups except for the State Tea Party Express (based out of a Sacramento, Calif. political consulting firm) and the Tea Party Patriots Citizens Fund. Both entered the race in mid-April, combining to spend around $115,000 on direct mail and "telemarketing."
Kreegel received more financial support from outside groups than his two opponents combined
Values Are Vital (VAV), a super PAC established during the early stages of the Radel scandal by a Las Vegas lawyer and a Miami retiree, has outpaced other outside spending groups by a wide margin. The hard hitting committee — which has Paige Kreegel's opponents in TV attack ads — has spent a little less than $1.6 million on independent expenditures as of the most recent reports available Monday, compared to $780,000 of outside support for state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (mostly from the Liberty and Leadership Fund) and the $115,000 spent in support of Clawson by Tea Party groups.
VAV was behind a slew of ads questioning the apparent business dealings between Clawson and a convicted pedophile from Utah, though the victim's mother has since publicly defended Clawson against the ads, "it's wrong and I'm asking it to stop. My ex-husband and I don't know Curt Clawson very well. I was the real estate agent when he purchased a house and I met him one time."
As Sunlight previously reported, the group's founder and treasurer, Ronald Firman, declined to discuss why the PAC recently refunded over one million dollars to Firman and fellow financial backer Martin Burns.
The Liberty and Leadership Fund is financed in part by the state GOP
The Tampa Bay Times reports that the largest outside benefactor of Benacquisto, the Liberty and Leadership Fund, received around $300,000 from the state Republican party. According to the Times, the money passed through several other committees before reaching the super PAC. While coordination with super PACs is prohibited, a spokesperson for the Republican committee said the party has no control over what happens to their contributions after they have been transferred.