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Cannon Cash Helps McCollum’s Firepower

A political committee backing Bill McCollum in the Republican primary for governor looks positioned for another television ad buy after drawing another installment of almost $500,000 from a group tied to House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon.

Cannon, R-Winter Park, steered money from his Florida Liberty Fund to the Florida First Committee, which earlier this month ran a $600,000 weeklong statewide television spot accusing McCollum rival Rick Scott of profiting from the “largest Medicare fraud in American history.”

All told, Cannon has poured $727,000 this month into the committee. McCollum also filed papers Friday acknowledging that he is raising money for Florida First and another organization, the Sunshine State Freedom Fund.

Earlier, McCollum said of the committee backing, “We don’t run them, we don’t maintain them, they’re not my organizations.”

Florida First’s ad had been preceded by a $2 million statewide spot critical of Scott, financed by the Alliance for America’s Future. McCollum’s media strategist, Chris Mattola, has worked with both organizations.

Scott’s campaign ripped McCollum for his shifting stance.

“The McColllum camp tried to sneak McCollum’s admission that he’d failed to comply with the law past the voters late on a Friday afternoon. Given the lengths McCollum has gone to in avoiding these disclosures, it is not surprising that they would try and sneak it through,” said John French, coordinator of Scott’s own Let’s Get To Work Committee, which spent $1.4 million on an ad last week.

As the television fight intensifies between McCollum and Scott – who has spent $16 million of his own money on TV ads – it also heightens the powerful role so-called 527 committees are playing in the GOP primary contest.

Named after the section of the IRS code which governs them, 527s can collect and distribute unlimited amounts of cash to influence an election – making them potentially a more decisive campaign weapon than tightly regulated candidate contributions, or even party funds.

For Scott, his 527 spending allows him to sidestep state public finance laws. If Scott’s own campaign spends more than $24.9 million, McCollum would be given dollar-for-dollar taxpayer money the amount above that state-ordered cap.

Cannon has declined comment on the fund-raising shell game he and Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos are performing on McCollum’s behalf. But records show the committees associated with Cannon and Haridopolos each recently took in $500,000 from three Broward County companies, only to quickly funnel most of the cash to organizations backing McCollum.

Cannon last week sent $487,000 to the Florida First Committee; Haridopolos at the same time sent $400,000 from his own Freedom First Committee to an organization called the Citizens Speaking Out Committee.

A central figure in both committees is a McCollum supporter, Alachua County Republican Chairman Stafford Jones, who told the News Service of Florida last week he had no comment on what Citizens Speaking Out planned to do with the money. Jones had been associated with a “Don’t Bank on Sink” website posted last year critical of presumptive Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink.

The latest money exchange also occurred just days before the Florida Medical Association endorsed McCollum in his Aug. 24 primary contest with Scott. The FMA, a longtime supporter of McCollum, had joined with the Florida Orthopedic Society in fighting workers’ compensation legislation this spring aimed at reducing the cost of prescription drugs dispensed by physicians.

Also opposing the measure (HB 5603) was Dr. Paul Zimmerman, who with Dr. Gerald Glass, leads the three companies which gave $1 million to the committees tied to Cannon and Haridopolos. The doctors founded Automated Healthcare Solutions, which provides distribution and billing for doctors providing medication to patients in workers’ compensation cases.

Following Crist’s veto, Sink said she was “very disappointed that Gov. Crist chose…to favor special interests instead of Florida taxpayers.”

Erin Van Sickle, an FMA spokeswoman, said the organization’s endorsement was unrelated to the fight over the workers’ comp legislation.

“The FMA has been a longtime and consistent supporter of Bill McCollum. The PAC’s endorsement reflects our goal of supporting candidates who will advocate pro-medicine policies,” she said.

Zimmerman and other company officials did not return phone calls and E-mail from the News Service of Florida. While two of the companies sending money to the lawmakers’ committees are medical firms, the third – which gave $200,000 to each organization – is Green Solar Transportation, a Coral Springs firm which provides alternative fuel for the trucking industry.

A day after Green Solar gave the $200,000 donations to the lawmakers’ 527s on June 16, Haridopolos announced that he would hold a renewable energy summit in Orlando. The July 8 event at the Orlando World Center Marriott is hosted by Citizens for Clean Energy, an organization comprised chiefly of South Florida alternative energy companies which say they are pledged to bringing jobs, investment and technology to the state.

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