Business leaders are working to collect $275,000 in donations for a political group created in the run-up to the Aug. 24 primary, and Segal's mayoral campaign may end up being the key beneficiary.
On top of that, the group, called The Coalition for Regional Excellence in Leadership, already has run its own pro-Segal TV ads, and it has sent out a mailer for School Board chairman candidate Bill Sublette.
The coalition is one of the many outside groups in Florida that form at election time specifically to collect unlimited donations for certain campaigns. They also can legally coordinate with individual candidates, which critics say essentially flouts the state's $500 individual candidate donation limit in each election cycle.
So far, the ads have been positive, but the group has not ruled out running negative ads leading up to the primary.
"We don't discuss any strategy," said Mike Ketchum, who helps lead the coalition and also heads BusinessForce, the political arm of Orlando's chamber of commerce, Orlando Inc.
In an e-mail last month, the president of the chamber's parent organization, Jacob Stuart, wrote that the coalition had already raised $75,000 and hoped to raise an additional $200,000. Stuart stressed the need to raise large sums fast.
"Remember, The Coalition for Regional Excellence in Leadership can accept contributions from businesses and individuals in any amount," wrote Stuart.
The other candidate the group helped, Sublette, also has far more funds than his foes, having collected $160,840 on his own at the end of July, outpacing opponents Homer Hartage, with $15,508, and Leona Rachman, with $5,097.
Segal's campaign manager Eric Foglesong said he had not coordinated with the coalition but noted that it would not be illegal to do so. The group's TV ads are nearly identical to ads Segal's campaign is running and make similar claims.
Jacobs said the groups show why the chamber and Segal opposed campaign-finance reforms championed by her to curb business donations and require fuller disclosure of the people behind political gifts.
The chamber "has found a back-door way to fund Segal's campaign," Jacobs said.
Another group planning to help Segal, Concerned Citizens of Orange County, formed Friday but has yet to file financial reports. It lists businessman Cory Jones as its leader. He could not be reached for comment, but Jones hosted a fundraiser for Segal earlier this year.
Concerned Citizens' financial activity could emerge Friday, the next reporting deadline, and the last one before the primary. That's also when it will be revealed if the coalition's goal of $275,000 was reached.
So far, Jim Pugh, a developer and Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts chairman, has written its largest check, for $25,000, helping the group raise $64,500 in seven days, records show.
Pugh said he supports Segal because he might be receptive to borrowing money to get the entire downtown performing arts center built, instead of the currently planned phased construction of the $425 million project.
Ketchum said the coalition may back other state or local candidates. But even if a small share of its funds go to Segal, it would only add to his huge fundraising lead.
In the final two weeks of July, Segal raised almost $16,000, tipping his total above $700,000. That keeps him firmly ahead of the entire field combined, but Segal's campaign also spent almost $104,000 for printing and campaign labor, leaving him with about $48,000 on hand.
So for the first time in time in this race, Segal has less cash on hand than another candidate because Jacobs had $70,000 in the bank after the last fundraising period.
The coalition's chairman, attorney Derek Bruce, said the group did not focus on how much its preferred candidates had raised but more so on "who can we help get their message out."
Bruce also sits on Jacobs' campaign-finance team.
"It's a delicate balance," Bruce said of the dual roles. "I would not carry a piece of strategy or information from one meeting to the other."
David Damron can be reached at email@example.com or 407-420-5311.