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    Charities benefit from leftover campaign cash

    By LISA GREENE and ROB FARLEY

    © St. Petersburg Times, published December 21, 2000


    CLEARWATER -- Amid a sea of chad and a storm of controversy, at least a few good things happened because of this year's elections.

    Hospice of Florida Suncoast is $1,000 richer. Community Pride Child Care has an extra $250. The Clearwater Marine Aquarium, $100.

    They're among the local non-profit groups who got donations from political candidates who had leftover campaign funds.

    The biggest donor among county officials and North Pinellas legislators was state Sen. Jack Latvala. Latvala raised a lot of money when he was considering a bid for secretary of state, then because he expected an opponent. But he wound up running unopposed for re-election to the District 19 Senate seat. And that left him with $200,000 to donate.

    Latvala decided to spread the money around to mostly local charities and non-profits. The biggest winner was the Greenwood Community Health Center in Clearwater, which got $20,000. The next largest donations included $10,000 each to the Oldsmar Little League and East Lake Community Library and $8,500 to the Safety Harbor Museum.

    "I tried to distribute it pretty evenly throughout the district," Latvala said.

    State candidates who face opposition had far less in surplus funds.

    State Rep. Larry Crow, who ran against Democrat Sue Humphreys in District 49, did not have any money to distribute, said campaign manager Leona Tangell. At the end of the competitive election, Crow, R-Palm Harbor, only had about $30 left in his campaign account, she said.

    Gus Bilirakis, a Republican from Palm Harbor, wasn't able to be as generous as he was two years ago, when he doled out about $50,000, most of it to schools in his district. This year, he spent all but $4,000 of his campaign funds in his race against Independent candidate Chris Gregg in state House District 48.

    "This year, I just don't have that much to give," Bilirakis said.

    So far, he has given $1,000 to the Highland Lakes Elementary School for playground equipment and $500 to a North Pinellas pregnancy center. He plans to distribute the rest to Palm Harbor Middle School, the Palm Harbor Senior Activity Center, to a charity set up for a classmate of his son who has diagnosed with leukemia, St. Luke's Pre-School and the Hospice of the Florida Suncoast.

    Ava VanNahmen said being able to donate to charity is of little consolation for losing her bid for House District 50 to Republican Kim Berfield of Clearwater. VanNahmen, a Democrat from the Feather Sound area, said she'll have about $1,000 to donate, although she hasn't decided yet which group to give the money to.

    "They'll have to check it for chads," when the donation comes in, she joked.

    County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who is married to Jack Latvala, donated about $4,700 to different groups. Her donations went from the hospice to the American Cancer Society to the Pinellas County Environmental Foundation.

    Once the election is over, state law allows candidates to buy thank-you ads, close up their campaign offices and repay loans. Then they can return a share of the leftover funds to their contributors or donate the money to non-profit groups, a political party or the county's general fund.

    Commissioner Karen Seel donated about $900 to five different groups, including the Clearwater Marine Aquarium and the Junior League of Clearwater and Dunedin.

    The losing candidates in Seel's and Latvala's races reported that the money they spent after the election went to campaign expenses or loan repayments.

    Seel and Latvala were elected in September. Candidates elected in November, including commissioners Bob Stewart, John Morroni and Ken Welch, have until February to file their final campaign spending reports.

    Welch said he'll have about $1,000 left to donate to the Urban League.

    "To me, that's the best use of the money," Welch said. "It's giving back to the community."

    Morroni said he had $400 left, which he donated to his son's elementary school.

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