Locked in one of the nation’s costliest elections, Republican Rick Scott is pulling campaign money not only from his own pocket and from major GOP national donors, but also from another rich vein of cash.
Well-heeled Floridians appointed by Scott to a number of state boards during his two terms as governor are ponying up to help him unseat three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.
Scott has collected close to $1.4 million from 127 appointees, their spouses and children, who have given either to his Senate campaign or the New Republican PAC supporting his bid, an analysis shows.
The amount is a fraction of the more than $22.5 million Scott has collected — including $14 million of his own money. But it shows how the broad reach of the governor’s power can be used to advance his political future.
Those contributors deny that there’s any link between their appointments and the checks they cut for Scott’s Senate bid. But the campaign data shows a remarkable correlation.
“The governor or people in his campaign have never asked me to give,” said developer Syd Kitson, CEO of Kitson & Partners of Palm Beach Gardens, appointed by Scott in 2016 to the State University System Board of Governors.
Kitson and his wife, Diane, gave $10,800 to Scott’s campaign in May.
“I’ve supported Gov. Scott and I like what he’s done on the education side…and I believe in his message of job creation,” said Kitson, developer of the massive, Babcock Ranch community near Fort Myers. “But I’ve never felt that I had to give.”
Still, some critics say board members steering significant amounts of money to the governor who appoints them raises questions about state government.
“It smacks of pay-to-play,” said Ben Wilcox, research director for Integrity Florida, a government watchdog organization. “It’s part of a dysfunctional campaign finance system here in Florida.”
Florida has tight limits on gifts and promises of future employment made to public officials. But campaign finance laws don’t touch the kind of donations flowing between those Scott appointed and his campaign for Senate.
And some of Scott’s biggest contributors earlier were handed coveted spots.
James “Bill” Heavener, whose business interests include being CEO of Full Sail University, the Winter Park for-profit college, has joined with his wife, Christie, in pouring $228,600 into Scott’s campaign.
Heavener, a University of Florida graduate, is on the school’s board of trustees and also the board of Enterprise Florida, the business development organization Scott fought hard to preserve over opposition last year from House Republicans.
Bradenton homebuilder Carlos Beruff, who chaired the Constitution Revision Commission, which put eight, wide-ranging proposals on the November ballot, gave $78,600 to Scott’s campaign, along with his wife, Janelle.
Jacksonville marketing executive and charter schools advocate Gary Chartrand, a member and past chair of the state Board of Education, has given Scott $75,800 in his bid to defeat Nelson.
Daniel Doyle, Jr., a former Scott appointee to the State University System Board of Governors, is part of a $108,600 family investment in the Senate campaign, including contributions from his father and other Doyles tied to their Tampa-based imaging company.
Jordan Zimmerman, founder of the advertising agency bearing his name, has given $78,600 with his wife to Scott. He was appointed to the University of South Florida board by the governor.
Brian Ballard, the Tallahassee and Washington, D.C., lobbyist who counts President Donald Trump’s business interests among his clients, gave $10,800 to Scott, along with his wife, Kathryn, who the governor named to the Florida State University Board of Trustees in January.
Ballard also helped raise another $97,200 for the Scott campaign this year through business and personal associates.
Another FSU Board of Trustees member, Maximo Alvarez of Doral, president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors, teamed with his company vice-president, Sandra Reuss, to give Scott’s campaign $66,200.
Scott chairs the Enterprise Florida board of directors, whose current and former members have proved a potent source of campaign cash – giving $342,900 to the governor’s Senate campaign.
Among those Enterprise Florida donors is Mori Hosseini, the Daytona Beach developer who, with wife, Forough, have given $31,600. Mori Hosseini is chair of the University of Florida board and his wife — also appointed by Scott — is chair of the Daytona State College board.
Another is Jay Beyrouti, a Redington Shores real estate investor and former mayor.
Beyrouti was appointed by Scott to fill a vacancy on the Pinellas County Commission in July, two weeks before he hosted a fundraiser for the governor.
The fundraiser, which brought in as much as $150,000 for the campaign, occurred the same day Trump held a rally in Tampa for Republican Ron DeSantis, who is looking to succeed Scott.
“I don’t fit into the category of big donors,” Beyrouti said. “I’m small potatoes. And the fundraiser was planned way ahead — maybe six months ahead — of when he appointed me.”
Scott’s staff has said he looks for the best-qualified individuals when stocking state boards — unpaid positions that can shape public policy and oversight of issues ranging from higher education, the courts, health care, business and tourism.
“If anybody contributes to my campaign, they contribute because they know clearly what I stand for,” Scott said last week. “Go back to when I started running in 2010, I told everybody what I was going to do, and if they contribute to my campaign, they know what I stand for.”
Asked if there was an expectation to give following an appointment, Scott said, “Of course not.”
Governors have long appointed big campaign donors to key state boards in Florida and other states. Sometimes, the spots are a reward, while others can populate boards with like-minded supporters who can advance their agenda.
Others named can be industry titans, multimillionaire business executives who donate to those leading the state and can bask in the glow of influence.
Sometimes, supporters give even after their role on a board gets them crossways with the governor.
Former Republican House Speaker Allan Bense, a Panama City businessman, was not reappointed by Scott to the Florida State University Board of Trustees after voting for a 1.7 percent tuition increase opposed by the governor.
The increase was approved in 2013. But when Bense came up for reappointment to his alma mater’s board in 2016, Scott found someone else — Alvarez, the Sunshine Gasoline president, who, with his vice-president, has since poured $66,200 into the campaign.
Allan and wife, Tonie, still gave $4,000 to Scott’s Senate campaign.
“The tuition increase was a ‘no-no.’ I understand that,” Allan Bense said. “But I really think he’ll be a good U.S. senator. “
Appointees among Gov. Rick Scott’s biggest donors to his U.S. Senate campaign
James “Bill Heavener, University of Florida Board of Trustees: $228,600
Daniel Doyle, Jr., State University System Board of Governors: $108,600*
Brian and Kathryn Ballard, Florida State University Board of Trustees: $108,000**
Carlos Beruff, Constitution Revision Commission: $78,600
Gary Chartrand, State Board of Education: $75,800
Jordan Zimmerman, University of South Florida Board of Trustees: $78,600
Max Alvarez, Florida State University Board of Trustees: $66,200***
Mori and Forough Hosseini, University of Florida board; Daytona State College board: $31,600
Pat Neal, Twelfth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission: $25,000
H. Wayne Huizenga, Jr., State University System Board of Governors: $25,000
*Includes other family contributions
**Includes $97,200 from Brian Ballard, representing bundled contributions from others
***Includes business associate contributions
Source: Rick Scott campaign, Victory Fund, and New Republican PAC