Murman triumphs at filling coffers
The candidate for the state Senate has a big head start on fundraising over fellow GOP contenders.
By LETITIA STEIN
Published October 21, 2005
BRANDON - In Tallahassee, Sen. Tom Lee made headlines scorning the influence of special interests in state politics.
Now big money could sway the election for his successor.
A year before voters cast the first ballots, state and national interest groups are pouring money into the campaign of GOP contender Sandy Murman, a former state representative.
Murman has banked more than $251,000, according to campaign finance reports filed last week. Her campaign account dwarfs those of Republican rivals: former Hillsborough school chief Earl Lennard, who just got into the race, and Plant City businessman Ray Young, who is largely self-financing his campaign.
To date, Murman has emerged as the darling of business interests. About two of three dollars contributed to Murman come from people and groups that seek to influence the state Legislature: political lobbyists and the health care, legal, insurance and real estate industries.
Nearly half of her contributions - more than $117,000 - came from addresses outside the counties encompassed in her district: Hillsborough, Pasco and Polk.
Interest groups as far away as California and New Jersey are giving to Murman.
Health care interests alone have written checks for nearly $90,000.
Murman, 55, worked closely on health and children's issues in eight years in Tallahassee, representing neighborhoods from south Tampa to Lithia in east Hillsborough.
Term limits forced her out of office in 2004. She since has worked as a consultant for health care businesses, she said. Murman also sits on the community board for Brandon Regional Hospital.
Other business interests are closely following her political future too. People and groups with ties to the real estate industry have contributed nearly $21,000.
Insurance interests have written checks for another $10,000.
Political lobbyists, many based in Tallahassee, have pitched in about $15,000. "The ugly part of this business is having to raise money to get elected, to get your word out," Murman said. "People are giving to me because they think I'm a very good legislator. They would like to see me come back to the Legislature."
Lawyers also rank among the major contributors to Murman's campaign. The legal field has contributed nearly $31,000.
Information on special interests contributions comes from a Times analysis of her campaign finance report, which used public records to identify lobbyists, political committees and Florida corporations. In addition, special interest groups might have contributed funds through donations by executives and their family members.
Locally, Murman's supporters include widely known Republican donors: Cliff Curry, a Valrico lawyer; Lorena Jaeb, a Mango resident and philanthropist; and Sam Rashid, a business executive living in Valrico.
In raising cash, Murman had a head start on her competitors. She entered the race in February 2004. Since then, the race has developed into a three-way Republican primary.
Former Hillsborough school chief Lennard, 63, announced his bid in September.
Born and raised in east Hillsborough, Lennard's name is well-known in the region. But his first weeks of fundraising barely made a dent against Murman's war chest. Lennard raised $10,675 in the two weeks beginning in mid September. He plans his first fundraisers for the coming months.
But he's not setting a goal to match Murman dollar for dollar.
"We'll get back to the old-timey politics of having fish fries and things that people can bring their children too," Lennard said. "That's what I think is important, and I think is sometimes missing in our political world today. We have to get back to the people."
After four decades in education, Lennard already is picking up checks from people who care about public schools statewide. His initial donors include Wayne Blanton, executive director of the Florida School Boards Association. The organization's immediate past president, Tom Greer, also contributed.
He also has the backing of influential names in Hillsborough politics.
Former Republican Gov. Bob Martinez and his wife both wrote checks to Lennard's campaign. So did former Hillsborough School Board member Joe Newsome, who represented east Hillsborough for 24 years before retiring in late 2002.
Lennard also has the backing of Lee's predecessor in the Senate, Malcolm Beard, a former Hillsborough sheriff. Beard's endorsement helped put Lee in office in 1996.
Lennard, the son of a farmer, has supporters in the region's agricultural community. But a third Republican candidate, Young, also claims farming votes and dollars.
Young, a lifelong Plant City resident, has supporters who include Dennis Carlton, influential in agricultural circles, and Rick Lott, who serves on the Plant City Commission.
A former president of the Plant City Chamber of Commerce, Young is seeking to establish himself as a serious contender against opponents with better known names.
Young loaned his campaign $75,000 in late September. The personal contribution raised the total in his campaign coffers to nearly $109,000. "We're investing in ourselves to show our commitment to the campaign," said Young, 50, an air-conditioning salesman. "We're making a statement that we're in the race."
The winner of the Republican primary will face Democrat Stephen Gorham, 27, in the general election. Gorham has written himself checks for about $5,000 of the $7,700 in his campaign coffers.
- Letitia Stein can be reached at 661-2443 or email@example.com
WHO GAVE MURMAN MONEY
Sandy Murman's state Senate bid is attracting big bucks from special interests. The rounded figures below represent estimates from a Times analysis of campaign finance reports.
Health care companies, executives and doctors' groups:
Lawyers and law firms:
Developers, builders, apartment complexes:
WHERE MURMAN RAISED MONEY
47 percent: outside the Senate district's counties
9 percent in east Hillsborough
38 percent in Tampa and north Hillsborough
* Other funds came from Pasco and Polk counties.
[Last modified October 20, 2005, 10:29:05]
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