Politics & Government

Florida's GOP governor's race is battle of big spenders

As Rick Scott freely spends his fortune in his bid to become governor, Republican rival Bill McCollum is fighting to keep up by spending the millions of others.

McCollum's allies make up a long list: Big Sugar, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Progess Energy, real-estate developers, road builders, beer distributors, car dealers, nursing homes and wealthy individuals like Fort Lauderdale entrepreneur H. Wayne Huizenga and Dallas philanthropist Peter O'Donnell.

All have written hefty five- and six-figure checks to a pair of political committees controlled by McCollum, the state attorney general, as Scott and McCollum battle for the nomination in next Tuesday's primary.

McCollum's two groups, Florida First Initiative and Sunshine State Freedom Fund, have raked in a combined $4.1 million to help fund a barrage of McCollum TV ads attacking Scott for his role in leading the Columbia/HCA hospital conglomerate, which was hit with record Medicare-fraud fines. McCollum, who has criticized Scott for trying to "buy the governor's mansion," said he's not selling out in taking special-interest money.

"If people want to contribute to me, generally speaking, I don't care who they are unless they have an unsavory background," McCollum said. "They can give to this campaign. They can give to me if they believe in my cause. That doesn't mean I believe in theirs."

McCollum said he's not sure, for instance, whether he supports a major buyout of U.S. Sugar lands in the name of Everglades restoration. U.S. Sugar has spent more than $1.1 million to help McCollum.

"Our company has stepped up pretty significantly with Bill McCollum. But that's not unusual," said U.S. Sugar Corp. vice president and lobbyist Bob Coker. "We don't sit down and say, 'We've given you $49, therefore, we expect blah blah blah.' That's not our game. We expect someone who's going to be fair and who will allow us to espouse our views."

Coker said he has known McCollum for decades and has respected the candidate's work ethic and principled approach to issues. He acknowledged U.S. Sugar contributed to a secretive political committee, The League of American Voters, which does not have to disclose its donors under federal tax law because it is a 501(c)4 nonprofit activist group. The league has contributed $550,000 to one of McCollum's committees.

Scott's campaign issued a statement demanding that the league disclose its donors.

McCollum said he "didn't have knowledge" of the league and that he "didn't have any contact" with its members. So he won't call on the group to disclose its donors.

To read the complete article, visit www.miamiherald.com.

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