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Political junkie

Crist campaign gets to keep $50,000 check he gave back

By Times staff writers
Published February 8, 2006

The $50,000 check from the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee to Charlie Crist was almost too good to be true.

Crist didn't know it was coming last October when the local party endorsed the St. Petersburg man running for governor.

And for a while, Crist didn't think he could accept it.

Campaign finance rules in 2005 prevented a local party from giving more than $25,000 to a single candidate more than 28 days before the general election.

So with more than a year to go before Election Day, Crist had to hand back the big cardboard check. The local party then wrote a check for $24,000, but Crist decided to refund that money - other in-kind donations put the local party right at the $25,000 limit.

Luckily for Crist, the campaign finance laws changed in 2006. Local parties can give up to $125,000 now, local party chairman Tony DiMatteo said.

DiMatteo handed over the $50,000 check to Crist's campaign last week.

"He's our hometown guy," DiMatteo said this week.

A BIG NAME LIST: Pinellas County Commissioner Calvin Harris, a Democrat, is kicking off his re-election campaign boasting broad support from both major parties.

Powerful Republicans Mel and Betty Sembler are hosting a Feb. 15 fundraiser for the incumbent commissioner. Harris' host committee for the event could double for a who's who list in Pinellas politics - included for starters are St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, former County Commissioner Barbara Sheen Todd, Gus Bilirakis congressional campaign chairman Gus Stavros, and Clearwater uber lawyer Ed Armstrong.

Four St. Petersburg City Council members - James Bennett, Rene Flowers, Earnest Williams and Richard Kriseman - are also part of the committee. As is state Rep. Frank Peterman, a Democrat from St. Petersburg.

Harris has been on the County Commission since 1997 and faces Norm Roche in the 2006 Democratic primary. No Republican has yet filed to run in Harris' District 2, a seat that is elected countywide.

MORE FOR THE SEMBLERS: The political fun(draising) never stops at the Sembler Co. offices in St. Petersburg. On Feb. 17, Mel and Betty Sembler are hosting a reception for Mark Kennedy, a Republican congressman running for an open Senate seat in Minnesota.

NIGHT PARADE, FAST MONEY: While there are two Republicans running in state Senate District 16, the lone Democrat in the race, Rep. Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg, is taking in a parade, and asking for some cash.

Justice is promising senators from across Florida at his Saturday fundraiser in Tampa. There will be cigar rollers and salsa dancers as well. But the highlight might be the 2006 Sant'Yago Knight Parade, which starts at 6:30 p.m. and runs through downtown Tampa to Ybor City.

Justice has raised only $29,675 through 2005 for his Senate run, which is nothing compared to the Republicans in the race, state Rep. Kim Berfield ($317,163) and state Rep. Frank Farkas ($247,927). But then again, Justice has no primary opponent.

And that's worth a lot.

MEOW!: The race for office can sometimes be compared to an animal house. Well, on Saturday that sentiment takes on a more literal meaning.

Big Cat Rescue, the sometimes controversial, always newsworthy nonprofit Tampa outfit will hold a meet and greet for various political candidates at its sanctuary headquarters, at 12802 Easy St.

The event is being sponsored by Humane USA, an animal protection political action committee, based in Washington. Visitors will get a peek at more than 150 cats, including lions, bobcats and tigers. They'll also get face time with more than 13 candidates deemed, "animal friendly," by Humane USA. Admission to the event is $10.

Proceeds will go to Humane USA, who will in turn give money to the candidates they endorse. Congressional District 9 candidate Phyllis Busansky and state representative District 48 candidate Carl Zimmermann, both Democrats, are among the confirmed candidates. Police officers will be at the door to ensure safety. In other words: no cat fighting!

Nicole Johnson, Aaron Sharockman and Adam C. Smith contributed to this week's Political Junkie. Contact the staff at

[Last modified February 8, 2006, 01:15:22]

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