"Working together for a free Cuba"




Castor vs. Martínez race becoming a money magnet.
By Beth Reinhard and Marc Caputo

National political parties and advocacy groups geared up to lavish millions of dollars on the candidates in Florida's U.S. Senate race.

You may have never heard of the Florida Unity 2004 Committee or Democracy for America, but by Nov. 2, you will have seen their work.

The groups are part of a maelstrom of outside political forces swirling around the U.S. Senate race, off the radar screen of the typical voter, that will shape the tenor and topics of the campaign.

Florida is one of the few toss-up states in both the presidential and Senate races, making it a supercharged magnet for the national parties and special interests.

''If you want the most bang for your buck, you pour money into Florida,'' said Derek Willis of the Center for Public Integrity, a campaign finance watchdog group.

Democrat Betty Castor and Republican Mel Martínez are harvesting millions of dollars, but their Senate campaign accounts represent only a fraction of the money lode that will be dropped on the battleground state.

The national Republican Party has given the Florida GOP about $2.4 million to spend on federal races -- more than any other state's political machine, according to the watchdog group.

And that was before Martínez became the nominee on Aug. 31.

Martínez's campaign will also benefit from the Florida Unity 2004 Committee, an arm of the national party. It recently transferred $400,000 to Martínez's campaign and plans to spend another $2 million on commercials, said party spokesman Dan Allen.

The national Democratic Party plans to match its opponent and is paying for a Castor commercial this week in South Florida. But the state party's federal account has less than $300,000, compared to the state GOP's $3.6 million. Democrats expect the checks to flow but said they will lag in fundraising.


In the aftermath of campaign finance revisions, Democrats have become skilled at funneling money through outside groups, known as ''527s'' for the section of the tax code that governs them. Republicans are being outraised and outspent by these groups, largely because the GOP runs campaigns that are more top-down disciplined and centralized.

''The question this election will answer,'' said one Republican National Committee member, ``is will the Democrats in Florida or at the national level be able to capitalize by using all these groups in a pretty disorganized way, or will the Republican Party's organization steamroll them?''

A slew of liberal-leaning organizations are bundling checks for Castor or gearing up for television spots and mailings on her behalf.

Democracy for America -- a group headed by ex-presidential contender Howard Dean -- is holding an online contest to choose a U.S. Senate candidate to headline a fundraising appeal to its 660,000 members. Castor was among the top contenders as of Monday. The website also directs visitors to make an online contribution to her campaign; so do other Democratic fundraising groups such as the New Democratic Network and Emily's List.

The New Democratic Network website says: ''As we enter the home stretch for the up-for-grabs Senate, we at the NDN PAC want to make the strongest possible pitch for five excellent candidates.'' Castor is among them.

An e-mail last week from Emily's List asked: ''Will you volunteer to go to Florida on 10/29?'' The group offers to pay for airfare from Baltimore, accommodations and meals for volunteers willing to canvass neighborhoods during the weekend before the election.

Emily's List collected about $1.5 million for Castor and paid for commercials and mailings touting her campaign during the primary. Of the group's 15 endorsed candidates -- all Democratic women who favor abortion rights -- Castor is their top priority.

Organized labor and environmental groups also are expected to weigh in on Castor's behalf. On the Republican side, groups like the Club for Growth and state and national chapters of Right to Life are expected to boost Martínez's faith-based, low-tax agenda. A Washington-based organization, Americans for Tax Reform, sent out a news release Monday declaring that Castor ''threatens middle-class taxpayers'' because she opposes President Bush's tax cuts.

Martínez and Castor are prohibited from coordinating strategy with outside groups.


Many of these groups flourish on ''soft'' unregulated money that the new federal law bans political parties from collecting. Some do not report to state or federal election agencies and disclose little information to the IRS.

''You'll see groups coming out of nowhere that you have never heard of before and may never see again,'' Willis said. ``Most of them keep a low profile because they don't want their competition to know what they are doing until they are already there.''

One such stealth group emerged in the last week of the primary campaign, attacking Castor rival Peter Deutsch in phone calls and mailings. The Alliance for Protecting Seniors has yet to reveal its donors.

Another shadowy organization, People for a Better Florida, savaged Martínez in a last-minute batch of phone calls.

Candidates say they're almost powerless to fight groups that attack them or mold groups that back them.

''The upside is that there are more resources,'' said Castor consultant Doug Hattaway. ``The downside is distractions from your message. It creates a lot of cross currents, each one raising different issues and attacking different opponents, which can make it hard to break through.''

Source : The Miami Herald
        September 28, 2004