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    Campaign money machine restarts -- on high

    After a pause following the terrorist attacks, politicians are sticking their hands out to fund 2002 races.

    By LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief

    © St. Petersburg Times
    published December 20, 2001

    TALLAHASSEE -- After repeated cancellations in the wake of Sept. 11, campaign fundraising returned to the capital this week with a series of events to raise thousands of dollars for legislators and political parties for the 2002 elections.

    Tuesday night, the Florida Republican Party staged its first major fundraiser since the terrorist attacks, with Gov. Jeb Bush as guest of honor. The event took place at Dover Farm, which is owned by Carol Dover, a lobbyist for the Florida Restaurant Association.

    Tallahassee restaurants joined forces with a few lobbyists and Disney World to provide food and drink for the $500 per person party. Republican Party chairman Al Cardenas, Florida Victory 2002 chairman Al Hoffman Jr. and Republican finance chairman Al Austin of Tampa were the hosts. Between $250,000 and $300,000 was raised, GOP officials indicated.

    Bush had asked the GOP to take a break from fundraising out of respect for the victims of Sept. 11 and a country at war. He had a fundraising event in Vero Beach last week, his first since the attacks.

    Also Tuesday night, House Speaker Tom Feeney staged a $1,000 per person fundraiser for his expected congressional campaign. Feeney supporters gathered at Southwood, a former plantation house that is part of a new Arvida-St. Joe Co. development a few miles south of the Capitol. Feeney is considering running for a new seat in Congress that the Legislature is expected to create northeast of Orlando.

    Feeney's fundraiser had been scheduled to coincide with committee meetings earlier this year, but was canceled because of the terrorist attacks and special sessions on state budget cuts.

    Feeney said he raised about $80,000 Tuesday night and believes he has around $300,000 for the race -- if he runs. "I'm going to prepare for it," Feeney said Wednesday. "I'll have other options if it doesn't work out. I could seek re-election to the House for another two years, the Senate is a possibility and there are a couple of Cabinet races on the ballot."

    But he is pinning his hopes on Congress. He has had fundraisers in Washington, Tampa, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville and Panama City. Haley Barbour, former chairman of the national GOP, had a fundraiser for Feeney at his Washington law firm. The Young Republicans had a second fundraiser in the nation's capital.

    "It wasn't high dollar," Feeney said of the Young Republicans event. "But 70 to 80 young Republicans who work in Washington and were excited about the thought I might end up in Congress were there -- the true believers were there."

    Feeney and other legislators are rushing to fill campaign coffers before the Legislature convenes on Jan. 22. House and Senate rules forbid members from fundraising during the 60-day session.

    Monday was a night of bipartisan fundraising. The Florida Democratic Party had a fundraiser for House candidates at the Florida Hotel and Motel Association. Rep. Bob Allen, R-Merritt Island, had a fundraiser at the Florida Restaurant Association headquarters near the Capitol, while Reps. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando; Mark Mahon, R-Jacksonville; and Mike Hogan, R-Jacksonville, collected money down the street at the Greenberg Traurig law offices.

    On Tuesday night Rep. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah, collected contributions at the Governor's Club.

    A full slate of fundraising events -- two or three a night -- begins again on Jan. 7, when legislators return to Tallahassee for a week of committee meetings.

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    Lucy Morgan

    From the Times state desk