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Political funding frenzy ceases

In the final three weeks, more than $80,000 was collected for local races, much of which went to the House District 44 candidates. Ads and mailings soaked it up.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 7, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- At midnight Thursday, political candidates officially had to stop taking donations and spending money on their campaigns.

When the dust had settled, the hopefuls for Hernando County's several local seats up for election had raked in more than $80,000 in the final three weeks. The two candidates for the county's main state race, House District 44, had gathered $42,730.

In the House race, the two spent $49,514. Of that amount, 44 percent went into direct mailings and 22 percent into media advertising.

The local candidates spent more than $64,000 during that time, with about 80 percent going into advertising. Much of the rest went toward postcards, mailed ads, mailing labels and stamps so the candidates could reach registered voters who do not use the mainstream media.

"We had a multifaceted approach," said sheriff's Maj. Richard Nugent, Republican candidate for sheriff, who spent more than any other local candidate in the final three weeks. "We did a lot of walking. What we wanted to do was couple that with newspaper ads and television ads, and we did a 40,000-piece mailout to try to hit every possible aspect to get the message out."

The final blitz is critical, said Janey Baldwin, the Republican hopeful in County Commission District 1. She spent $16,500 of her own between Oct. 14 and Nov. 2 to ensure that no ground went uncovered.

"When I ran eight years ago, I spent about $20,000 and I lost by 148 votes," Baldwin said. "I thought this time, if I run I'm going to do everything I can to win, and I did."

Here's how the contributions and spending broke down in each race.

State House District 44

Incumbent Republican David Russell brought in $28,370 during the final weeks and spent $26,763. Political action committees backing his candidacy were numerous, including at the $500 level: Florida Engineers PAC, Florida Action Committee for Rural Electrification, Florida Cable Telecommunication Association, Florida Optometric PAC, Florida Chamber PAC, Florida Employees PAC and BellSouth Employees Florida PAC.

Other groups donating to Russell included the Seminole Tribe, Humana Inc., Deerfield Beach-based Toyota dealer J.M. Family Enterprises and U.S. Sugar Corp. Notable Hernando County contributors included former County Commissioner Ray Lossing, whose wife, Anne, works for Russell, sheriff's candidate Nugent and Planning and Zoning Commissioners Al Sevier and Anthony Palmieri.

Challenger Gregory Williams, a Democrat, had gotten $14,360 and spent $22,751. He had a small number of political action committees give to his effort, including education unions in Stuart, Broward County, Fort Myers and Leesburg. The Florida Democratic Party gave Williams $11,449, the Hernando Democratic Women's Club contributed $500 and Iron Workers Local 397 of Mango gave $250.

Some of Williams' Hernando County supporters included outgoing County Commissioner Pat Novy, teachers union leaders Stephen Stora and Jo Ann Hartge, former School Board candidate Irvin Homer and local NAACP founder Hazel Land.

Hernando County Sheriff

Nugent, major of operations in the Sheriff's Office, raised $8,560 in the past three weeks and spent $23,277. His Democratic rival, Sgt. Eddie McConnell, collected $7,760 and doled out $10,512. And no-party candidate Michael Robinson, a retired Philadelphia police lieutenant, brought in $9,160 and spent $9,412.

Endorsed by retiring Sheriff Tom Mylander, Nugent got a $100 check from Mylander's wife and another $1,182 from Sheriff's Office employees. Other high-profile contributors included schools Superintendent John Sanders, School Board member Robert Wiggins, state Rep. David Russell, Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai, Spring Hill Fire Chief Michael Morgan and developer Derrill McAteer.

Groups donating $500 to the campaign include STARS, a local Republican women's club; two realtors' political action committees in Orlando; Bealls PAC; and Mountaineer Group, a West Virginia investment company. Other organizations giving large amounts include Euro American Programs, the Hernando County Republican Party, the Conservative Elephant Club and Coastal Engineering Associates.

McConnell got $260 in contributions from Sheriff's Office employees during the final weeks. The largest number of his 188 donations came in $10 and $20 increments, but he also received money from some high-profile people and groups.

These included retired Judge Edwin Malmquist, several members of the Batten family of Brooksville and Masaryktown Mayor Pauline Chorvat. Organizations giving $200 or more included Hernando Jet Center Inc., the Hernando Democratic Women's Club, Capt. Brad's Seafood and Grubbs Construction Co.

Robinson received a handful of contributions, including $250 from Florida Crushed Stone and $250 from its trucking subsidiary, Tri-State Carriers. He got $250 from Florida Rock Industries lawyer Jake Varn, $100 from the power company CP&L, and $200 from former County Commission candidate Paul Weekley.

The bulk of his funds -- $8,000 -- were from his own account.

County Commission

In commission District 1, which encompasses all of Hernando County east of U.S. 41, Republican candidate Janey Baldwin reported receiving $19,750. Of that amount, $16,500 came from her own bank account. She spent $20,527.

The rest of the money came in large chunks. Giving $500 were Gary Grubbs of Grubbs Construction Co., Florida Action Committee for Rural Electrification, Forest Oaks Villas and the Good Government Group West Florida, a division of HCA -- The Healthcare Co. Other supporters included former Brooksville city attorney Bill Eppley, real estate agent Hardy Huntley, the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee and Coastal Engineering Associates.

Democrat Betty Whitehouse said she mailed her finance report to the Supervisor of Elections office a day late. It was not available for review.

In District 3, which includes Hernando north of State Road 50 Boulevard and west of U.S. 41, Democrat Diane Rowden collected $4,070, with all but $70 coming from herself. She spent $3,993. Republican Carey Carlson netted $7,000 and spent $4,860.

Rowden's two contributors were Timber Pines activist Hans Froelich and Darin Mikel of Brooksville.

Backing Carlson were Florida Crushed Stone and its trucking division, Tri-State Carriers, Grubbs Construction Co., Florida Action Committee for Rural Electrification, Coastal Engineering Associates, the Hernando Republican Executive Committee and Builders and Associated Combined Political Committee.

Other financial supporters included Forest Oak Villas, Conservative Elephant Club, the Hogan Law Firm, two Orlando-based realtors' PACs and the Good Government Group, a division of HCA -- The Healthcare Co. Individual supporters included builders William and Deborah Bachschmidt of Inglis, and real estate agents Hardy Huntley and Robert Buckner.

In commission District 5, which covers coastal Hernando County south of the stretch of Cortez Boulevard that lies west of U.S. 19, Republican William "Alonzo" Merritt collected $9,472 and spent $9,504. Democrat Mary Coyne Aiken got $1,140 and spent $1,153.

Merritt's contributors ranged from several dozen fundraiser attendees at $20 per person. His prominent supporters included Tom Hogan Sr., former County Commission candidate Anna Liisa Covell, Republican activist Jeanette Soto, former Brooksville city attorney Eppley and real estate agent Robert Buckner.

Merritt also received much support from the fishing industry and its backers who initially brought him into the race, including $500 from the Marine Industry Council and $200 from Capt. Brad's Seafood. Other large contributors include the county Republican Party, Florida Crushed Stone and its trucking subsidiary, Tri-State Carriers, Grubbs Construction Co., Coastal Engineering Associates and Conservative Elephant Club.

Others included Good Government Group West Florida Division of HCA -- The Healthcare Co., Builders and Associates Combined Political Committee, and Realtors Political Action Committee Florida.

Aiken received seven contributions, including $500 from the Democratic Women's Club of Hernando County. John Karpiscak, campaign manager for outgoing County Commissioner Paul Sullivan, gave $100, and Sullivan backer Joe Bennett gave $50. Aiken also gave her campaign $250.

School Board

The non-partisan race for School Board District 2 generated little money.

Shannon Laviano, a lawyer, raised $240 and spent $969. Former teacher and School Board member Gail Coleman collected $1,340 and spent $1,385.

Laviano generated her money from school-related employees, including the purchasing director, a school psychologist and board Chairman Jim Malcolm. Coleman got $500 from Realtors Political Activity Committee-Florida and Realtors Political Action Committee-Florida. She gave her campaign $240.

Tax collector

Democrat Juanita Sikes raised $8,135 and spent $7,516. Republican Garry Allen brought in $4,070 and spent $6,928.

Sikes, endorsed by her sister, retiring Tax Collector Leona Bechtelheimer, gave herself $5,000. Bechtelheimer and her family gave $788.50.

Other notable donors included Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai, state House candidate Gregory Williams, County Commission hopeful Diane Rowden, A.A. McKethan and local attorney Joe Mason Jr.

The Democratic Women's Club of Hernando County gave Sikes $500.

Allen got contributions from pharmacist Tom Hogan Sr., former Deputy County Administrator Jennene Norman and county Development Director Grant Tolbert. He received money from STARS, the Republican Executive Committee, the Conservative Elephants Club, the Hogan Law Firm, Grubbs Construction Co. and Coastal Engineering Associates.

Supervisor of elections

Republican Gus Guadagnino collected $2,120 in the final three weeks and spent $1,801. Democrat Annie Williams raised $530 and spent $542.

Like other local Republicans, Guadagnino received donations from STARS, the Republican Executive Committee and the Conservative Elephant Club. He also got money from real estate agent Robert Buckner, Republican activist Jeanette Soto, Spring Hill lawyer Jeffrey Cario and Builders and Associates Combined Political Committee.

Williams got $500 from the Democratic Women's Club. She also received support from NAACP local founder Hazel Land, former County Commission candidate Luther Cason, state House candidate Gregory Williams and Brooksville doctor Sharon Vickers.

Political parties

The Hernando County Republican Executive Committee outpaced the Hernando County Democratic Executive Committee in contributions.

The Republicans collected $8,032 compared with the Democrats, who raised $62.50. The two biggest Republican donors were DAB Constructors with $5,000 and the Conservative Elephant Club with $2,800. The party gave $300 to each of the local Republican candidates.

The largest donation to the Democrats came from former state House candidate Diane TeStrake, who gave $31.

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