Manatee County Commission candidate Betsy Benac is one of the best-funded candidates in Tuesday's primary election, raising more than $94,000 in contributions, as of Aug. 9, according to the Manatee elections office. That's more than five times as much as the man she is trying to unseat, Joe McClash.
Benac also has been the beneficiary of independent expenditures from a developer-funded "electioneering communications organization" called Take Back Our Government, which has peppered local mailboxes and telephones with an anti-McClash campaign targeting the long-time commissioner because of editorial positions taken by his online newspaper, his opposition to certain development projects, and endorsements he has received from groups like the Sierra Club.
As the Bradenton Herald previously reported, the Sarasota-based Take Back Our Government is headed by former Sarasota Republican Party chairman Robert Waechter, who now is a member of the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.
Funded almost entirely by development-related companies, Take Back Our Government as of Aug. 9 had spent almost $58,000 this election cycle on "electioneering communications," according to the Florida Division of Elections. The records don't specify where the money has been spent, but anyone who has taken a look at the fine print on the fliers that have flooded some Manatee mailboxes in recent days and weeks can testify, much of the group's efforts have been spent on targeting McClash.
(Of Take Back Our Government's expenditures, more than $54,100 has gone to Political Ink Inc., a Washington-based firm specializing in direct-mail campaigns.)
Where is the money coming from?
According to the Division of Elections, Take Back Our Government had collected more than $65,000 in contributions, as of Aug. 9.
Of that, almost half, or $32,000, had come from Florida West Coast Holdings LLC, which shares a Bradenton address with Medallion Home, which is headed by developer Carlos Beruff -- who sits on the airport board with Waechter.
Another $27,000 came from Committee to Protect Florida's Seniors, another "electioneering communications organization" based in Venice and headed by Eric Robinson, another former chairman of the Sarasota GOP.
Take another step back, and its filings with the Division of Elections show that Committee to Protect Florida's Seniors has received $54,500 in contributions this elections cycle: $27,500 from Mosaic Fertilizer Inc.; $25,000 from Florida West Coast Holdings and Cargor Partners III Parrish, which shares the same Bradenton address as other Beruff-led firms; and $2,000 from Wilmington Land Company, which shares a Lakewood Ranch address with Neal Communities, one of the largest developers in the county.
Of the $27,312.45 spent by Committee to Protect Florida's Seniors, all but $312.45 has gone to Take Back Our Government.