State Campaign Contributions Hit $227M, Up $33M Compared to 2012

Florida’s growing population, several high-profile ballot items and the ever rising cost of running political campaigns are fueling the flow of $227 million in contributions to statehouse candidates and committees backing statewide initiatives.

The amount of the contributions this year represents an increase of $33 million compared to the same point in 2012, the last time a presidential race was at the top of the ticket.

Overall, there have been 275 checks of $100,000 or more (including candidate loans) for a total of $51.3 million, up from $39.9 million in 2012 from checks that size, according to POLITICO Florida analysis of campaign finance reports.

The biggest individual donor this election cycle, which started Jan. 2015, is the state’s largest utility, Florida Power & Light, which has contributed $7.3 million, with almost, $4 million going to Consumers for Smart Solar. The group is backing Amendment 1 on the November ballot. It would provide Floridians with a constitutional right to own or lease solar equipment and would prohibit other utility customers from subsidizing those with solar. Supporters say the measure protects consumers, but environmentalists say the measure is designed to block other pro-solar policies.

Amendment 1 is supported by the state’s largest utility companies, and has driven some of the state’s highest-profile contributions. Duke Energy has also given $3.5 million for the effort, which has raised a total of $16 million.

Overall, there have been nearly 640,000 in individual contributions, nearly 30,000 more than through the same point in 2012.The average donation went from $318 in 2012 to nearly $360 this election cycle.

“I think there are a few things driving it, the No. 1 thing is [population] growth,” said Nick Iarossi, a Republican lobbyist and fundraiser.

Florida’s population topped 20 million last year, making it the nation’s third-largest. It surpassed New York’s population in 2014.

Iarossi said the population increase “has caused new industries and expansion of existing industries that are regulated by the government,” noting initiatives like All Aboard Florida, a $3 billion passenger rail project, and the growth of the medical marijuana industry.

“When those industries have to interface with the state government, you are going to see additional campaign contributions,” Iarossi said.

People United for Medical Marijuana, has raised nearly $10 million to pass a ballot measure legalizing medical marijuana. Much of that has come from prominent trial lawyer and Democratic donor John Morgan.

A big chunk of the increased contributions came from big donors, but campaign donations were up at all levels of giving.

So far this election cycle, $26.8 million has come from $1,000 check compared to $19.3 million at the same point in 2012. That $1,000 level is the most a donor can directly give to a non-statewide candidate.

Also driving the rise in state-level contributions: a long running redistricting battle that created a hugely competitive election map. This year, all 40 state Senate seats up because of redistricting and several additional state House seats opened up because members from those seats opted to run for the state Senate. Open seats are typically more competitive and more expensive.

There are more than 40 state House seats with no incumbent running. Not all are competitive, but many feature expensive primary fights that are helping drive up the overall price tag of this election cycle.

Also fueling the rise is that it’s presidential election year, which are always more expensive than off-year elections.

Said Iarossi: “TV markets continue to get expensive and mail continues to be expensive. Costs of campaigns just continues to grow.”