City election 2014 – Follow the money #1

In my post about the reporting of campaign contributions I stated, “it takes considerable time, effort and specialized knowledge … to dredge up such information.”  And that’s what I’ve been doing: expending considerable time and effort dredging up the sources of funding in the City Commission races.  Eventually I’ll write up a how-to so others can carry the torch in future years.


The race for the at-large seat is really between Annie Orlando and Helen Warren.  The other three candidates, Barbara Ann Ruth, Mark Venzke and Don Shepherd, are all off the radar; they’ll do well to get 5% of the vote combined.

Incumbent Todd Chase is a shoo-in in District 2, made up of the Republican-leaning suburban precincts of northwest Gainesville.  He faces only token opposition from Cheri Brodeur and Sheryl Eddie.  Brodeur has eschewed accepting contributions, and Eddie may as well have, as both will prove unable to mount credible campaigns.  Brodeur has promised an aggressive door-to-door campaign in the district and if successful it may bring her close to the “dead man vote” I’ve written about elsewhere.

District 3 encompasses the mostly UF-oriented city precincts west of the campus.  Incumbent Susan Bottcher has a well-funded opponent in Craig Carter, but it would be an unprecedented upset if he were to prevail.

While there is a supposed contribution limit of $250 per person, Florida law has long expanded the definition of “person” to include corporations and organizations, thus rendering the contribution limit a hoax.  Want to contribute more than $250? No problem! File the papers, pay the fee, write the check to the candidate of your choice. As many times as you want.

I’m going to be concerned here with the heavy hitters.  Let’s get started…

The Chase bank

As of February 7, Chase reports a total of $30,129 in contributions, almost double the amount of the next largest war chest in any of the races. Of his 186 contributions, 81 are for $250, 13 are for $200, and 10 are for $150.  That’s an exceptionally high proportion of large contributors.

Among his earliest contributors are local Tea Party stalwarts Kathy Benton, Laurie Newsom, and Ernesto and Debbie Martinez.

Things start to get interesting when you track down the principals of the businesses that contribute the big bucks.

  • Republican State Representative Keith Perry shows up in Chase’s report (and others), not under his own name, but as “WKP Properties ($250).”(Coward! Can’t even contribute under his own name!)
  • Douglas Wilcox gave $250 under his own name and another $1,250 under businesses 55th Place Partners, 49th Avenue Partners, Scherer Construction, Edison Avenue Partners, and Access Self Storage.
  • Three members of the Justice family (Rocky, Heather & Tammy) gave $750 under their own names and another $500 under NAPA Auto Parts and RTTH Real Estate Holdings.
  • Members of the Smysor family (Charlotte & Patricia) gave $500 individually and $500 through businesses (Pauzel LLC & Tri-Cep).
  • Three members of Ultimate Towing‘s Forron family (Stan, Susan & Marlene) gave $500 under their own names and another $300 under businesses Elite Auto Center and Two Fat Bald Men Land Investments (but none under Ultimate Towing).
  • The Cade family of Gatorade fame – Martha, Mary & Stephen – each gave $250. Richard Miles, spouse of another Cade daughter, gave $250. Perry McGriff (insurance) donated $250 and, among many interests, is on the board of the Cade Museum.
  • Jon (investment advisor) and Marlene Visscher each donated $250.
  • Two Paul D’Alto businesses, PDA Development & Pizza ‘n’ Brew Partnership, contributed $250 each.
  • Two founders of Infinite Energy, Darin Cook and Richard Blaser, each gave $250 under their own names.

The intertwined interests of banking, development, construction, and real estate are well represented:

  • Hendersons (Fred, Karen, James, Peggy & Kelly) each gave $250.
  • George “Cotton” Fletcher and wife, Gloria (attorney), gave $100 and $250, respectively, and $250 each from their businesses Fletcher’s Newberry Road, Fletcher Construction, and Legacy Property Development.  Blake Fletcher of Fletcher Construction also contributed $250.
  • Pk5 LLC (owned by Ropen Nalbandian Properties) and Zabel Thur de Koos (manager) each gave $250.
  • The Cheshire Family Trust, Commercial Sites LLC, and Kokomo Key Properties (all at the same address) gave $100 each.
  • A number of individuals and businesses in these fields gave $250 each: Ken McGurn, John Pastore, Randi Elrad, Eric Gonzalez, John C Hipp, Charles Perry Partners, Jim Painter, Tioga Town Center, Billy Scheel, Showcase Restorations.
  • A few gave $200 each: Mike Warren (developer), Pat Boyes (development attorney), Winston Rushing (banking), Prudential Trend Realty,  and D.R. O’Neil Income Properties, Rod Gonzalez (real estate and other interests).
  • And at the $150 level (no boxed set included): Sam Goforth (banking).

A number of other businesses and individuals associated with real estate and development contributed $100 or less.

Additional $250 corporate contributors included: Wahoo’s Seafood Grill, Style Cuts, J Brown Professional Group, Intermed Biomedical, Consultants and Analysts, V G Enterprises, and Jack Ross Law Firm.

I’ll just list the last names of individuals who made a single $250 under their own names.  They’re mostly retail business owners. I don’t think it adds much to give more details. In no particular order, they are: Potapow, Lewis, Wilson, Edmunds, Branin, Storoe, Engels, Newhard, Islam, Wagner, a couple of Robinsons (different addresses), Shores, Brasfield, Kastensmidt, Ramer.  A few are out-of-state, several list “homemaker” as their occupation, making it difficult to identify their interests.

Shopping Carter

Thus far, Craig Carter reports $15,364 in 85 contributions. Twenty-five of those contributions were for $250, and 4 for $200.

Other than himself, Carter’s first contributors are the Tea Party Bentons ($750) and Keith Perry ($250) as (Coward!) WKP Properties (again).

Other Tea Party notables among his contributors include Carolyn Yoho, Annette Armstrong, Laurie Newsom, and County Commissioner Susan Baird.

As with Chase’s campaign, contributions flowed from the Cade family members ($750), Rocky Justice and his businesses ($750), and $300 from Cheshire interests (Family Trust, Signature Equity, and KAD Holdings).

Rob Zeller, who ran unsuccessfully against Susan Bottcher in 2011, gave $250 under his own name and another $500 under his businesses, Gator Ugly and CS Foods.  He also owns Best Policy Corp, which was the recipient of some $5,500 in campaign expenditures for signs and mailings, and was originally co-owned by Zeller and Ed Braddy.

Tony Barr and Barr Systems each gave $250.

Leonard and Diana Scott (same address) gave $200.

As with Chase’s lists, development, construction, real estate, and banking interests are well represented among the high-end contributors: Randi Elrad, John C Hipp, W G Johnson & Sons, Charles Perry Partners, Central Florida Drywall, J William Stanley, Showcase Restorations, Winston Rushing, Patricia Moser, Billy Scheel, Pat Boyes, and Rod Gonzalez.

Other businesses in the $200-$250 range include: Concept Development, Cardinal Signs, Heritage Payment Solutions, and Hill’s Mini-Storage.

Individuals contributing $250 include (last names): Fabriani, Davis, Roundtree, DeMontmollin, Combs, Burkhardt, Livingston, Almond, and McEachern.

And now for something completely different…

Bottcher up

At this point, with $15,603 in contributions, Bottcher leads her opponent Carter in fundraising by $239.  She also leads in number of contributions, 144 to 105.

However, the most remarkable contrast in Bottcher’s report from either Carter’s or Chase’s is the near absence of corporate contributions.  Bottcher lists only two contributions from businesses.

One is $250 from the law firm of Avera and Smith, Smith being Rod Smith, former prosecutor, state senator, candidate for governor, and chair of the state Democratic Party.

The other, curiously, is $100 from S Clark Butler Enterprises.  Perhaps not so curiously, Bottcher points out in her “stump speech” published in the Sun, “I supported Butler Plaza’s expansion” as an example of her support for expanding the city’s property tax base.

Also in contrast to the two Republicans, Democrat Bottcher reports only 15 $250 contributions, 6 for $200, and 8 for $150, meaning the bulk of her funding comes from individuals contributing $100 or less.

Bottcher’s contributors comprise a Who’s Who of local Democratic Party poohbahs, including

  • Current and former elected officials (or their spouses): Poe, Hutchinson, Chalmers, McGriff, Nielsen, Hinson-Rawls, McNealy, Paulson, DeLaney, Flagg, Donovan.
  • Democratic Party activists: Reiskind, Karp, Foxx, Cofrin, Brinkman, Fleming.
  • Other candidates: Helen Warren (City Commission), and Harvey Ward (County Commission).

Other names that may stand out to long-time residents include neighborhood and environmental advocates, League of Women Voters/Common Cause types, UF employees, retirees, and frequent letter-to-the-editor writers.

All in all, it’s clear that while her support base may consist of those the talk radio pundits would likely call the usual suspects, few stand to reap any personal financial gain from governmental decisions Bottcher will ever participate in.

Warren piece

After perusing Bottcher’s reports, at-large candidate Helen Warren’s reports can be summed up as, “the same, only more so.”  As of the latest report, she’s collected $12,548 through 138 contributions, with even fewer contributions coming in at the high end than Bottcher (18 for $250, but only 5 for $200, for example).

Like Bottcher, Warren lists only two business contributors. One came from Del Bottcher‘s business, Soil and Water Engineering, and the other from a health food producer, Whey Natural! USA.  Both gave $250, and Del and Susan Bottcher also each contributed $250 individually.

Warren’s lists include many of the same names as Bottcher’s–Karp, Ward, Poe, Reiskind, Hutchinson, Brinkman, Donovan, DeLaney, Cofrin, Paulson, and McNealey–while adding several additional politicos–Lowe, Wheeler, Roy, Nesbitt, Eppes, and Chestnut–along with a similar roster of the usual suspects.

In a novel twist of the strange bedfellows variety, Warren’s contributors include a significant number of local real estate agents, a segment of the population not often seen in the political company of liberals and environmentalists (and vice versa)–a mixture no doubt resulting from Warren’s own professional and volunteer connections.

Orlando blooming

But if ever there was an award for the strangest bedfellows it would go to Annie Orlando, whose contributor list draws from opposite ends of the political spectrum–Tea Partiers to staunch environmentalists–based largely on her opposition to the current and previous commission’s stance on Gainesville Regional Utilities, and in particular, the biomass plant and GREC contract.

At this point, Orlando leads Warren in fund-raising by about $4,000.  Along with individuals critical of GRU, and aside from family members, her large contributors include the Cade family, the Bentons, Saul Silber, Keith Perry as WKP Properties (Coward!), O’Steen Brothers, attorneys Pat Boyes and Gary Edinger (probably best know for representing adult entertainment businesses), several small businesses in southeast Gainesville, and a smattering of other business people not normally seen on contributor lists.  Some of her financial support apparently derives from her involvement with the East Gainesville development initiatives.

In the end, the picture of support associated with this at-large race between Orlando and Warren is clearly reminiscent of last year’s mayoral race between Ed Braddy and Craig Lowe. Whether that backing will translate into a similar electoral outcome remains to be seen.

Stay tuned

With two more report filings due before the March 11 election, there’ll be plenty to dig into.

You can view the candidates’ reports for yourself at the Supervisor of Elections website.  And for different takes on them see the Buyer’s Guide and Chris Curry’s article in the Gainesville Sun.

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