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Foes spar over who funds fliers

Frank Farkas and Kim Berfield debate how special interests' campaign literature affects their primary.

Published August 25, 2006

Thousands of Republican voters this week received a campaign mailing with a pink headline saying, "Frank Farkas must not think mammograms are important."

But for insight into how this Pinellas-Hillsborough state Senate race is going, look to the fine print.

It will show you that, officially speaking, this piece of "paid electioneering communication" did not come from Kim Berfield, Farkas' opponent in the Sept. 5 Republican primary. It came from People for a Better Florida, a group heavily backed by the Florida Medical Association and individual physicians.

For candidates frantically collecting money in hopes of getting their message out by TV, mail and other media, it's a great advantage to have someone step in to pay their costs. And in some campaigns, the most negative mailings are from the outside groups, which at least makes it appear that the candidates themselves aren't the ones doing the mudslinging.

While Farkas has sent out at least three mailings in recent weeks that cost between $11,000 and $14,000 from his campaign account, at least seven have gone out on Berfield's behalf. She didn't pay for any of them, including the recent mailing with the pink headline and an unflattering picture of Farkas.

Of the seven that have gone out on Berfield's behalf, four were paid by the doctors' group and three by the Florida Mainstreet Merchants, a group backed by the Florida Retail Federation and other groups.

The winner of the primary will face Democrat Charlie Justice in the November general election. All three are in the state House.

Farkas wouldn't concede that free mass mailings amount to a campaign advantage for Berfield, but he said it's significant that Berfield is benefiting from so much money from outside groups. Besides the unspecified amounts that retailers and doctors are using to aid her campaign with the mailings, Farkas' staff said its analysis of Berfield's campaign account shows that more than half has come from insurance and medical groups.

"I think people have to look at the intent of these groups that are supporting her," Farkas said. "Why are medical doctors so heavily supporting Ms. Berfield? Why are insurance companies so heavily supporting Ms. Berfield?"

He said that level of support could make it harder for Berfield to take proconsumer stands if elected to the Senate.

Berfield said the mailings amount to "a nice compliment" of her.

As for Farkas' contention that all of this support would prevent her from taking proconsumer stands against groups like physicians or the insurance industry, she said: "I say it's outrageous because if you look at my record, it speaks for itself."

Berfield said, for example, that she opposed a House insurance bill that would have allowed insurance companies to raise homeowners' premiums by as much as 25 percent a year without regulatory review. She also said she opposed provisions of a bill sponsored by Farkas in 2002 that would have originally allowed companies to offer health insurance policies that did not cover such things as mammograms and cleft palate procedures.

Farkas said at the time that he was trying to prod insurance companies into providing low-cost health insurance plans for people with no coverage at all. This bill was the basis of Berfield's mailing this week.

[Last modified August 25, 2006, 07:20:45]

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