TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Gov. Rick Scott is quickly — and somewhat quietly — building up a large campaign account for re-election even though the race is three years away.
In a matter of just four months, a political committee tied to Scott has received nearly $550,000 with checks coming in various special interest groups and a six-figure check from a well-known South Florida health care businessman.
Democrats say they aren’t surprised by Scott’s decision to raise so much money so far in advance of the 2014 election. They maintain it shows that he’s worried about his political future. Recent polls have shown Scott’s favorable rating remains below 50 percent.
“He’s vulnerable and his agenda is too extreme and he’s vastly unpopular,” said Scott Arceneaux, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party.
But Tony Fabrizio, a top political adviser for Scott, said Tuesday there is no reason for the governor to wait since he’s already made it clear he plans to seek a second term.
“What’s the logic to waiting?” Fabrizio said.
He added that as the economy improves and the state’s unemployment rate drops, the governor’s poll numbers will inevitably rise.
The decision to start raising large amounts of money now could help dissuade any talk of a primary challenge within his own party and send a message to any Democratic contenders.
Scott spent more than $70 million of his own money to win his first bid for office, but the buildup of money in his own political committee just shows how daunting it could be for someone to take on the multi-millionaire.
Florida law caps donations to a campaign at $500, but donations to certain types of political committees are unlimited. Florida law allows these organizations to coordinate with a campaign and run television and radio ads as long as they do not say vote for or against someone.
Scott’s political organization — called Let’s Get to Work — helped his maverick campaign for governor and paid for television ads. But it was largely dormant in the months right after he took office.
That has changed. Checks are flowing in even while the Florida Legislature is in session. Last year Scott refrained from raising money for the Republican Party of Florida during the annual legislative session even though he was not required.
Last summer a political committee associated with the Florida Optometric Association donated $100,000 to Scott’s committee. That group is pushing to get permission from lawmakers to prescribe certain types of drugs to their patients.
Since October, the fundraising pace has accelerated.
Political organizations connected to the Florida Retail Federation gave $100,000 while the Florida Association of Insurance Agents donated $50,000 according to records posted on the Let’s Get to Work website. The Florida Retail Federation wants state lawmakers to pass a bill to force online retailers to charge sales taxes. Scott has said he would support the legislation if other state taxes were cut by an equal amount.
The biggest check for $125,000 came from Miguel “Mike” Fernandez, a veteran health care businessman whose interests include a health maintenance organization that serves Medicaid patients. Last year Scott and the GOP-controlled Florida Legislature pushed through an ambitious overhaul of Medicaid that will shift all patients into managed care by 2014. There is a legislative push this year to ensure that smaller HMOs such as Fernandez’s will be able to compete with large national HMOs.
Fernandez acknowledged that his company will be helped by Medicaid reform, but he said Tuesday that he’s backing the governor because he has kept his promises to cut taxes, trim the size of government and cut down on regulations.
“He’s not the most popular governor in the nation,” said Fernandez, who pointed out he has donated to both Democrats and Republicans. “But I do want to help him because I trust him and I see him doing exactly what he said he was going to do.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.