Russell has money, but not from here
The state representative wants to become a county commissioner, but most of his support has come from donors who don't live here.
By ASJYLYN LODER
Published August 17, 2006
After eight years in Tallahassee, State Rep. Dave Russell wants to get back to his roots: return home to Brooksville and take a seat on the Hernando County Commission.
But more than 69 percent of his campaign cash comes from outside the county.
Russell's latest campaign reports show him with $18,545, but only $5,700 comes from the county he'd like to serve. The rest comes from cities from Cocoa to Zephyrhills. He's received more money from Tallahassee than he has from Spring Hill.
From Tampa to Tarpon Springs, Orlando to Inglis, Miami to West Palm Beach, Russell has collected campaign cash all over the state. Much of it comes from donors that have been generous to Russell in his state legislative races: sugar companies, lobbyists, insurance interests and developers.
Critics say the out-of-county largesse shows that Russell is short on local support and that it opens the door to outsiders who want a say in county business. But the District 44 legislator said he's proud of his record and his support, no matter where it's from. It shows a breadth of experience lacking in his opponent.
"I would say it indicates broad support in my campaign," Russell said. "I've worked with people not only across the state, but across the nation."
Ana Trinque, chairwoman of the county Republican Executive Committee, said she's pleased that Russell has kept in touch with supporters throughout the state. "He's been well-respected. He chaired a powerful committee, so he has friends all over."
Those contacts will make him a more effective commissioner, able to reach out for help and advice from professionals throughout the state, she said. It will also make him more adept at getting Tallahassee to give money back to Hernando County.
While Russell has retained his out-of-county donors, former Commissioner Rob Schenck has expanded his campaign cash network beyond the county border. A longtime local who didn't finish his only term in public office he resigned in July to focus on his state legislative race, Schenck has rapidly tapped into a wealthy network of lobbyists and developers in his bid to replace Russell.
More than 44 percent of his donations come from outside District 44, which includes most of Hernando County, a section of north central Pasco County, and parts of Sumter and Lake counties.
"At a state level, you deal with issues that are statewide," Schenck said. "It's my priority, and I'm sure it's the same with Dave, to do what's best for your district."
Trinque said she'd be disappointed if Schenck didn't collect donations from throughout the state.
"Rob is running for a state office, and I would hope that he's made enough contacts to reach outside Hernando County," she said.
Winning over donors from around the state isn't unusual, even for newcomers to state politics like Schenck, said Susan McManus, political science professor at the University of South Florida. And lobbyists and political action committees don't lose interest just because a candidate downshifts from state government to local, she said.
"I think some of it is that a lot of the things PACs care about really have to be implemented at the grass roots level," McManus said.
She pointed out that decisions about land use, development and transportation all take place at the county and local level.
Jay Rowden, chairman of the county Democratic Executive Committee, said he's wary of "carpetbaggers" buying influence in Hernando County.
"The majority of your support should come from within Hernando County. That's who you're representing. I would question these people from outside the county," Rowden said.
But Rowden saw a plus side as well: Those donors can't vote here. With most of his contributions coming from outside the county, maybe Russell is a vulnerable candidate to the Democratic challenger, political newcomer Jamie Wrye.
"To me it shows that [Russell] does have very little support locally," Rowden said.
All of Wrye's take of $4,750 comes from Hernando County; $3,650 of it came out of his own pocket.
Glenn Claytor, the only Democrat in the District 44 state house race, took more than $4,000 from out-of-district donors. He has raised $24,000.
Democrats may grouse at the generosity of out-of-towners, but it's sour grapes because their own fundraising isn't going as well, Trinque said. If the situation were reversed, they'd do it too, she said.
Commissioner Nancy Robinson said she's a little wary of out-of-town contributors but doesn't fault candidates for raising money from across the state. She's also expanded her network after four terms in office. She's running for a fifth. She's taken $7,800 from outside the county this year of the more than $29,000 she has raised.
"If the biggest portion of their contributions are coming from outside the county, it's very evident that there's a lack of community support for the candidate locally, and the candidate gets elected locally," she said.
Robinson is especially skeptical of recent Florida transplants who get large sums from friends back home. "All politics is local, and that's where it counts: right here."
Where is Russell's money coming from?
Spring Hill: $1,150
Tampa, Cocoa, Orlando: $1,000 each
Jacksonville, Lake Buena Vista, Miami, Odessa, Weeki Wachee, West Palm Beach: $500 each
Everywhere else: $1,000
Asjylyn Loder can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 754-6127.