CAMPAIGN 2004 | U.S. SENATE CAMPAIGN
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
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
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
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
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
''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
Source : The Miami Herald
September 28, 2004