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Rick Scott’s Senate financing still mostly a mystery

Three months since he announced for U.S. Senate, and $10 million in TV advertising later, Floridians still don’t know much about who is funding Gov. Rick Scott’s free-swinging campaign.

Scott’s first campaign finance report won’t be made public until July 15 — deep into his bid to unseat three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whom the governor in a flood of TV ads has cast as a political relic and symbol of entrenched Washington.

Nelson’s last report was in March, showing him with $10.5 million cash-on-hand. And Nelson has reintroduced himself to voters only with online spots, with a TV campaign not planned until late August.

By contrast, Scott’s bevy of TV ads portrays him as a fresh face ready to take on the establishment.

Still, the few glimpses into Scott campaign spending that so far are available show he’s hardly an outsider but is relying heavily on support from well-lined pockets of political and corporate power.

Spending in the Florida Senate race is expected to top $100 million, making it the priciest race in the nation this year. And Scott has been collecting cash aggressively since jumping into the race April 9.

Despite the maverick sheen, Scott has crossed the country for fundraisers, including Washington events with House and Senate Majority Leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell.

In San Francisco, Scott raised money with former Giants managing partner Peter Magowan, and in North Palm Beach with golf Hall of Famer Jack Nicklaus.

“Governor Scott welcomes the support of anyone who shares his view that we need to shake up D.C., which includes implementing reforms such as term limits in Congress, ending wasteful spending through line-item vetoes, and making sure Congress doesn’t get a salary unless they do their job to pass a budget,” said Kerri Wyland, a Scott campaign spokeswoman.

The Rick Scott Victory Fund, a joint fundraising account with the National Republican Senatorial Committee, has reported some of what is certainly multimillions the governor has collected, and possibly enhanced with money from his own pocket.

The fund received $671,800 in May, records show, during his first full month as a candidate.

Among the donors are many with longtime state connections to Scott, including:

Forough Hosseini, wife of Daytona Beach homebuilder Mori Hosseini, who gave $25,000.

Mori Hosseini was appointed by Scott to the University of Florida Board of Trustees, and also serves as treasurer of the New Republican PAC, which has aired a TV spot supporting Scott.

The day after Scott launched his campaign, the Democratic-allied End Citizens United named the candidate and Hosseini in a complaint with the Federal Election Commission.

The Scott campaign dismissed as a “smear” the charge that the PAC violated finance laws by raising money before he became a candidate.

Lakewood Ranch developer and former state Sen. Pat Neal gave $19,600 to the Scott victory fund. Neal has been a steady contributor to Scott campaigns and helped get him to go along with steering $15 million in state dollars to Sarasota’s Nathan Benderson Park rowing center after the governor vetoed initial funding.

Other major contributions include several couples deeply tied to state government.

George Zoley, founder of GEO Group, the private prison company, and his wife, Donna, gave $67,800; Jeff Vinik, a Tampa Bay-area developer and wife, Mary, part of a group investing $12 million in the Tampa Bay Times, gave $67,800; and James Heavener, CEO of Winter Park’s Full Sail University, whom Scott also named to the UF Board of Trustees, and wife, Christie, gave $67,800.

Scott faces an Aug. 28 Republican primary contest against frequent candidate Rocky De La Fuente. But it’s clear the governor is looking ahead to Nelson — and November.

Polls show that despite Scott’s early TV spending, the race remains a toss-up.

Scott’s steady stream of TV ads has labeled Nelson a career politician — in Washington a half-century, although the Democrat’s total there is actually 30 years. One spot even likened him to a Ford Pinto.

Nelson lacks independence, simply following his party’s leadership, Scott ads claim. By contrast, the governor has touted a host of proposed, but hard to accomplish, changes for Washington — including term limits and a freeze on congressional pay when an annual budget fails to pass.

Nelson campaign spokeswoman Carlie Waibel said Scott “has always put himself and his donors first, and this election year is no different.”

She added, “His empty rhetoric is just another reminder Rick Scott will do or say anything to get elected, but the reality is he’s just done a bad job as governor.”

Nelson’s biggest contributors include Harris Corp., the Melbourne-based technology giant, which gave $135,125; the Akerman Law Firm, which gave $72,425; and the League of Conservation Voters, which gave $70, 778, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks campaign spending.

The New Republican PAC, which Scott led to help Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, spent $3.5 million last month for a TV spot repeating the Scott campaign’s themes against Nelson.

Its biggest donors include Greg. E. Lindberg, founder of a North Carolina international investment firm, who gave $300,000; the Comprehensive Care Group in Doral, which gave $250,000; Thomas McInerny, CEO of a Connecticut private equity firm, who gave $150,000; and The Villages retirement community, which gave $100,000.

Along with the FEC matter involving the PAC, Sarasota County Democratic Party Chairwoman Joanne DeVries filed a later complaint with the commission accusing Scott of raising money before he announced his candidacy — arguing that should have required him to file his first campaign finance report in April.

Scott allies apparently were compelled to even the score on complaints.

Former Florida Republican Party Chairwoman Leslie Dougher filed a Senate Ethics Committee complaint against Nelson for campaigning inside a Panhandle government building, and followed that last month with an FEC complaint about the Democrat’s campaign signs.

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