Politicians enjoy winter in South Florida – for raising money

It's the height of season, and not just for snowbirds enjoying Florida while it's still cold up north. In the political world, it's the season for raising money.

"This is high hunting season in the fundraising business," said Mark Foley, a Palm Beach County Republican who served 12 years in Congress. "Why do they rob banks? They go where the money is. No question this is fertile ground."

Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties are attractive for raising political cash because they're home to so many deep-pocketed Democratic and Republican donors. But this time of year brings even more part-time, deep-pocketed contributors, and candidates are hoping to persuade them to open their checkbooks.

It's a bipartisan phenomenon with candidates from both parties partaking.


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"It is all driven by the fact that there is snow on the ground in Washington, D.C., and it is a lot nicer to be here," said Robin Rorapaugh, a Democratic political consultant from Broward who's worked on presidential and statewide campaigns.

Andrew Weinstein, a Coral Springs lawyer and Florida Democratic Party finance chairman who was a major fundraiser for President Barack Obama, also credited the state's good winter weather and lousy weather elsewhere for luring candidates and increasing the population of potential donors.

Two of the biggest names in politics are holding major events in the next week.

•President Obama headlines a fundraising event for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the organization that raises money for Democratic candidates for the U.S. House of Representatives.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, who represents Broward and Palm Beach counties, is on the invite list for the Miami event, as is U.S. Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the DCCC, according to a copy of the invitation posted online by the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group that tracks government information. Deutch and Israel aren't really the draw. The hosts are Tracy and Alonzo Mourning. He's the former Miami Heat center and a major Obama supporter who was part of the president's golf foursome March 8 and 9 when the president had a private getaway weekend on Key Largo.

Since he'll be in Miami anyway for the Thursday event, Obama is also appearing at a second fundraiser, to benefit the Democratic National Committee. It's at the home of Lili Estefan and Lorenzo Luaces. Estefan, a Cuban-American model and television host, is the niece of music producer Emilio Estefan and singer Gloria Estefan.

•Mitt Romney, the Republican who lost the 2012 election to Obama and served a term as Massachusetts governor, headlines an event for the Republican Governors Association, which raises money to help Republican governors in their campaigns.

Host for the March 24 event is Mike Fernandez, of Coral Gables, according to a copy of the invitation. He's a billionaire Cuban-American health-care executive and finance chairman of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's re-election campaign. In January, the Republican governors group gave Scott a $2.5 million check to help his campaign.

A big name always helps, but it doesn't have to be Obama or Romney.

On Friday, former Gov. Jeb Bush and Al Hoffman, a former ambassador and former national Republican Party national finance chairman, hosted a fundraiser at Hoffman's North Palm Beach home for Ed Gillespie, who's running for the U.S. Senate in Virginia.

Also on Friday night, two big-name New York Republicans teamed up to help Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi raise campaign cash.

Donald Trump, the real estate developer and reality TV host, and Rudy Giuliani, the former mayor of New York City, partnered with Florida business executives and lobbyists for the event at the swankiest of swank locations: the Trump-owned Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach.

One downside of a controversial financial benefactor like Trump is the possibility of negative publicity. George Sheldon, one of the Democrats seeking his party's nomination to challenge Bondi, said her association with Trump shows she "seems to care more about raising money for her campaign than preserving the public trust in the Office of the Attorney General."

With control of the U.S. Senate up for grabs in November, there's lots of South Florida fundraising on behalf of Senate candidates from other states, said Anita Mitchell, chairwoman of the Palm Beach County Republican Party. That's also true of the Democrats. On Tuesday, supporters of U.S. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., are gathering at the Riverside Hotel in Fort Lauderdale for a "hot coffee and dessert" fundraising reception.

There are plenty of smaller events, some aimed more at sending a political signal than in raising huge cash.

Case in point: a fundraiser planned for Wednesday by Dean Trantalis, Fort Lauderdale's first openly gay city commissioner, and other leaders in Broward's gay and lesbian community to raise money for former Gov. Charlie Crist.

When Crist was the Republican governor from 2007 to 2011, he supported adding a ban on same-sex marriage to the Florida Constitution. Now he's a Democrat seeking his party's nomination to run for his old job against Scott, and he's reversed his opposition to gay marriage and apologized for his previous stand. His Democratic primary opponent, former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich of Weston, supported same-sex marriage and gay and lesbian civil rights before it became the default position of most Democrats seeking high office.

The ticket price for the Crist fundraiser is low — $100 for people 30 and older; $25 for those under 30 — but sends a message about the breadth of Crist's support as he continues to shore up his bona fides among Democrats.

Crist, Rich and Scott will continue raising money for months.

But much of the big money fundraising will slow down after Easter, Rorapaugh said. A sign of a slower political money season, Foley said, is when there are no longer so many private jets parked at the region's executive airports on weekends.

The slowdown is just as bipartisan as the fundraising frenzy. "The summer months are a particularly difficult time to fund raise in South Florida," Weinstein said via email.

Mitchell said "many people with money leave. So they need to strike while the money is here."

Read the full lists of Bondi and Crist fundraiser co-hosts at SunSentinel.com/BrowardPolitics

aman@tribune.com, 954-356-4550