PACs Funnel Money Into Gainesville Runoff Election
It's been said that money talks--but when it comes to politics--money speaks softly but carries a big stick.
Helen Warren won last month's runoff election for the Gainesville city commission by just 127 votes.
Records show her campaign received support from a political action committee based in South Carolina.
The PAC itself was funded largely by Gainesville residents who also contributed to Warren, including some who had already maxed out their individual contribution limit.
And it's all perfectly legal.
TV20 examined the campaign finance records of both the Helen Warren and Annie Orlando campaigns.
We found several donors who maxed out their individual contribution limits to the Warren campaign, then went ahead and contributed additional money to a political action committee based in South Carolina.
That PAC is called "South Forward" and according to online records, the group spent a little more than $4,000 just before the general and run-off elections on political advertisements and mailers supporting Warren.
Among those who donated money to that PAC was county commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson -- a strong proponent of adding more transparency to PACs.
He donated $100 to the PAC on March 28th about a week and a half before the runoff. That was the same reporting period he maxed out his $250 limit directly to Warren.
Hutch told TV20 he regrets giving to "South Forward" without doing more research about that group. He said all sides use PACs to their advantage -- and just because he donated to one doesn't mean he is against transparency.
The link between the Warren campaign and an out- of- state PAC is Helen Strain -- a former head of the Alachua County Democratic Executive committee and Warren's campaign manager. She is listed as a registered agent of the South Forward PAC.
Strain told TV20 she was no longer a registered agent of the group, and would never be affiliated with a PAC that was benefiting her campaign.
A representative of South Forward told TV20 Strain is still a registered agent as far as he knows, but that was not aware she was serving as campaign manager for Warren.
PACs also supported Annie Orlando's campaign.
One in particular, representing realtors, found a way to triple their investment.
Real estate agents and brokers from all across Florida donate to the Orlando-based "Realtors Political Advocacy Committee."
This PAC distributes money to two other PACs, the "Realtors Political Activity Committee" and the "Realtors Political Action Committee."
All three donated to Orlando's campaign twice on the same day—once before the general election and again before the runoff election.
The PACs allowed the realtors to donate $750 instead of the individual limit of $250.
Only one individual donor to Orlando—who did not give the maximum—donated to the realtors PAC.
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