Friday, February 20, 2009

FPL and Florida politicians: follow the money

FPL spending to influence Florida election races -- and by extension our elected officials once they're in office and sitting on key committees that deal with energy and utilities -- may seem like the minor leagues as compared with FPL spending on federal elections, if all you're looking at are the amounts of the contributions.

After all, we've already detailed that FPL Pac spent a total of $145,500 to influence Florida's congressional election races during the '08 primary and general election cycle.

And search through the online Florida Division of Elections Campaign Finance Database for the years 2002-08 does come up with amounts that pale in comparison to the '08 federal election campaign spending.

But, a closer look at FPL spending on Florida Senate and House races by its various PACS from 2002-08, shows that "minor leagues" may not be as good an analogy as "seed farm" or "nursery" -- in which FPL fertilizes the careers of those politicians who move up the food chain from local city and county Commissions through the State House and Senate with their eye on the big prize, where the big piles of lobbyist fertilizer lay, Washington, DC.

The breakout chart pulled from the database and attached here shows that FPL spent about $28,007 on Republican candidates for Florida State Senate seats and $17,351 on Democratic Senate candidates during that four year period.

The reason for the relatively small totals and all the onesies-and-twosies of $500 contributions is simple: Section 106.08 of Florida Statutes mandates that a candidate for public office may accept no more than $500 per election, although in any given year a candidate can receive that $500 maximum contribution for each of the first primary, second primary and general elections.

More important than the party or candidate totals, however, is who these candidates were and are ... top of the list of recipients on the Republican side is Jeff Atwater, the Palm Beach banker who is the current President of the Florida Senate; and, Mike Fasano, President Pro-Tempore and a member of the Senate's Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities committee.

Of course, that republicans line up to take FPL money is no great surprise. But, clearly, the Democrats in Tallahassee hardly bat an eyelash when FPL PAC contributions come their way.

Topping the FPL contributions list for 2002-08 Senate races was Dave Aronberg, who sits on the Senate's Policy and Steering Committee on Energy, Environment, and Land Use committee. Aronberg is followed on the list by current U.S. Congressman Ron Klein, who before he moved on to Washington took $1,817 from FPL in multiple primary and general election races in 2002; he also took $8,500 from FPL in his 2008 Congressional campaign for re-election.

And, then there's Dan Gelber, who took the maximum allowable $1,000 from FPL for his successful primary and general election Senate races last year; he's now believed to be a front-runner for Mel Martinez's U.S. Senate seat, soon to be vacant.

Regardless of the size of the individual contributions involved, what is clear here is that FPL seems to have in place a very deliberate program of cultivating and fertilizing politicians through campaign contributions at every level of politics here in Florida and in the nation's capital. Citizens need to be aware of this and to know who is receiving how much from FPL in order to hold our elected officials accountable.

Our aim is to keep doing that and so far we've looked at the federal elections in '08 and at the Florida Senate races for the past six years. Next up: Florida House races from 2002-08 ... and then maybe we'll take a cue from Eye on Miami and move onto county politics, where all the land use and permitting takes place and FPL cultivation of elected officials faces far less scrutiny.

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