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Money Floods Leon Elections in the Wake of GOP Campaign Finance Bill

Business/GOP Backed Candidates, David Bellamy Big Winners; Dianne Williams-Cox Flips on Taking New Money; Ethics Watchdogs’ Warnings Realized

// August 18, 2022,

10:05 am

Updated:August 31, 2022

A torrent of campaign contributions is upending Tallahassee’s elections due to a little noticed measure tucked into 2021 state legislation aimed at reducing contribution limits on ballot initiative campaigns.

However, Senate Bill 1890 also preempts counties and municipalities from enacting contribution limits other than the Florida’s limit for legislative candidates of $1000. The measure effectively wipes out Tallahassee’s $250 contribution limit enacted in 2014, which passed with 67% voter approval and replaces it with a $1000 limit per person or per entity.

The bill had zero democratic support in either branch of the Florida Legislature and only one Republican — Sen. Jeff Brandes — voted against it.

Contribution data through July from the Leon County Supervisor of Elections shows the change has drastically widened the disparity between business and establishment backed candidates and those without special interest support. It also shows a flood of Republican lobbyist money flowing toward those same candidates.

Seat 3 – Bellamy vs. Matlow

Contribution data filed through July shows that the biggest beneficiary of the change is David Bellamy who is challenging incumbent Jeremy Matlow in the race for City Commission Seat 3.

Bellamy has raised $281,990; however, if the previous $250 limitation was in place his total would be $125,240. He had numerous $500 contributions, dozens of $750 contributions and 158 donations at the new $1000 limit.

Bellamy, an orthopedic surgeon, has netted his biggest haul with physicians and medical interests most of whom donated at the $1000 level. He has done similarly well with developer/business interests and GOP aligned Capitol lobbyists.

Matlow has raised $128,620 for his reelection with 31 contributions exceeding the former $250 limit and 11 at the $1000 level. Under previous city approved limits Matlow’s would have been slightly less at $113,766.

Seat 4 (Mayor) Dailey vs. Dozier

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey has also benefited significantly from the legislative preemption. He has raised $251,650, but under the city approved limits he would have only raised $185,950. Dailey brought in the bulk of his contributions from development/business interests and Republican aligned lobbyists. Dailey received 64 checks at the new limit of $1000.

Daily’s chief opponent, County Commissioner Kristin Dozier, entered the race relatively late and has raised $96,424 with 36 checks for the new limit of $1000. Under the limits preempted by the legislature Dozier would have raised $60,484.

Seat 5 Dianne Williams-Cox, Adner Marcelin, Shelby Green

City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox has raised $97,444 for her reelection campaign to seat 5, however under the old rules she would have raised only $56,494.

In the wake of SB 1890 becoming law, the Tallahassee Democrat’s Karl Etters reported that Williams-Cox pledged not to take campaign contributions over $250 despite the preemption.

“I don’t like having to spend money to run for office because I think the voters should be able to get our message without having to spend all this money,” Williams-Cox said. “That money could be used for community good.”  

‘“I’m not going to ask for more than $250 even after it goes into effect because I don’t think that’s the right thing to do,” said Williams-Cox.

Despite those assurances, Williams-Cox brought in 76 contributions in excess of $250 with 43 checks at the $1000 limit. Williams-Cox, too, brought in the bulk of her money from development/business interests and Republican aligned lobbyists.

Williams Cox has two opponents for seat 5: Adner Marcelin has received six checks for $1000. Shelby Jade Green has received one $1000 check from her father.

Commenting in the Regulatory Review , Stetson University professor Ciara Torres -Spelliscy wrote, “This new Florida law may also render local elected office out of the reach of first-time candidates and would-be challengers…since local incumbents can now raise four or five times as much money from each affluent political donor.”

Interviewed by the anticorruption publication SLUDGE, Florida ethics watchdog Ben Wilcox said Tallahassee’s campaign contribution limits were “clearly expressing the will of our community to reduce the influence of money in politics. It’s simply arrogance for the legislature to say that it knows better than citizens of Tallahassee.”

Effect of SB 1890 on Leon County Commission races

The 2021 state legislation – Senate Bill 1890 – also preempts counties from enacting contribution limits other than Florida’s limit for legislative candidates of $1000.

Our analysis of contribution data through July from the Leon County Supervisor of Elections shows the change has drastically widened the disparity between business and establishment backed candidates and those without special interest support. While the legislation has had the most dramatic affect on city elections, it is still having a significant effect on Leon County Commission fundraising.

Leon County Commission – At Large, Group 2 – Nick Maddox, Josh Johnson, Rudy Ferguson, Sr.

Nick Maddox has benefited from the power of incumbency and far outweighs the field with $65,276. However, without the fundraising boost from SB 1890 his coffers would only have $27,729.
That was helped with 43 checks at the new maximum of $1000.

Josh Johnson has raised $28,899, with the lion’s share falling within the old $250 limit. Same thing for Rudy Ferguson who was raised $18,993 through July.

District 1 – Bill Proctor vs. Terrance Barber

incumbent Commissioner Bill Proctor has a commanding lead in fundraising and is benefiting from the state preemption. Terrance Barber has raised $12,159 with two checks at the new limit of $1000.

Proctor has raised $65,568. However, if the $250 limit were still in place his total would be reduced to $$25,818.

Proctor benefited from substantial contributions from the real estate/development and business interests.

District 2 – Linda Gayle-Bell, Christian Caben, Hannah Crow, Manny Joannos

Christian Caben has jumped to an early money lead with $71,012. That total would be less than half – $27,462 – without SB 1890. Caben brought in 50 $1000 checks at the new state-imposed limit.

Hannah Crow raised $47,960 but would have had $30,310 prior to the legislature’s preemption. She had 18 checks for $1000.

Manny Joannos brought in $43,440 through July with 17 $1000 donors.

Lynda Gayle Bell raised $28,0115 with all but $500 falling within the previous $250 limits.

The remaining candidates – Max Epstein, William Crowley, and Sabrina Allen – all brought in less than $10,000 and would have been minimally affected by SB 1890.

District 3 – Rick Minor, Damon Victor, Joey Lamar

Rick Minor is far-and-away the money leader with $81,593, however, without SB 1890 his total would be $57,697.

Damon Victor’s account had $26,733 and Joey Lamar had $12,960. Other than three $1000 checks for Victor, neither saw any great effect from the legislative change.

 

District 5 – Paula DeBoles-Johnson, Jay Revell, David O’Keefe, Dustin Rivest

Jay Revell and Dustin Rivest raised the most money and saw the most dramatic effect from SB 1890 in the race. Revell raised $87,986 which would’ve been whittled down to $53,442 without the legislative preemption. Rivest’s $84,950 would have been $58,400. Between the two of them, they brought in 56 $1000 checks for a single county district seat.

Paula DeBoles-Johnson and David O’Keefe have more modest campaign accounts, and both have seen, similarly, modest defects from SB 1890.

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