TALLAHASSEE – It's the season for fattening up, and Florida politics is fueling the expansion of some well-placed operatives' wallets.
Although the Florida Legislature may tackle campaign-finance reform in the 2013 session, these dollars aren't likely to dry up.
Florida's state Republican and Democratic parties, candidates and "electioneering" groups buying ads, direct-mail, robo-calls and other voter-contact initiatives spent an all-time high of $153 million on the 2012 elections – a figure that doesn't include the money poured into the state by federal races and super-PACs seeking to influence the presidential and congressional races.
While the bottom-line may be eye-popping, it takes into account the constantly increasing cost of advertising and difficulty reaching voters who are progressively more turned-off.
So who is happy this post-election holiday season? The list of political consultants behind last fall's barrage of political ads is a long one.
But lots of money also went to out-of-state firms.
Virginia-based McLaughlin & Associates banked $10.1 million from the state GOP and legislative candidates. The company does everything from polling to ad-development, and has worked for past Republican statewide candidates.
Some consultants -- like Rick Scott pollster Tony Fabrizio, who took in at least $931,000 from gambling interests, business groups and the GOP – are new entrants, with doors opened by their successful clients in past elections.
Another shop that worked for Scott's 2010 election and hung a shingle in Florida after he won – Austin, Texas-based Harris Media LLC – grossed $190,000 from state Republicans.
Then there are a few home-grown veterans, like Data Targeting Inc., a Gainesville-based firm run by GOP consultant Pat Bainter, which grossed more than $4.9 million.
A longtime Bainter associate, Alachua GOP Chairman Stafford Jones, is behind a group called "Progressives" that sent mail attacking Democrats in at least four state Senate races and has refused to disclose its donors. Both men have been heavily subsidized by the political funds of new Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
The biggest winners on Election Day in Florida were Democratic firms, and some of those specializing in ballot measures. Though paid less than the GOP consultants, they are able to claim some return on the investment.
Florida Democrats far exceeded expectations – winning the state for President Barack Obama, beating a future House speaker in Chris Dorworth, gaining legislative seats and apparently ousting two congressional Republicans in David Rivera and Allen West.
Chicago-based Snyder Pickerill Media Group, a political advertising spin-off of Obama's political machine, grossed $4.3 million from Florida Democrats this year.
FDP spokeswoman Brannon Jordan said the shift was driven by greater specialization in the consulting world and technological change.
Then there was an expensive fight over three Florida Supreme Court justices, and 11 constitutional amendments that drew big dollars.
The Washington D.C.-based New Media Firm was paid $4.9 million by trial lawyers to help retain three Supreme Court justices, as well as defeat constitutional amendments that would have placed a tighter cap on state spending and opened taxpayer coffers for religious groups.
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