Despite economy, candidates still hauling in cash

The lagging economy didn’t hinder Palm Beach County candidates from hauling in just over $1.1 million in campaign funds for the first quarter of this year. While Florida House and Senate candidates were prohibited from fundraising during the recent legislative session, that figure was only slightly less than the $1.2 million raised the previous quarter.

To date, these candidates have raised more than $3.6 million for the upcoming election. Once again, state Senate candidates topped the list, garnering over $1.7 million, or nearly 50 percent of the total to date.

Of the top five Senate fundraisers across the state, two are from Palm Beach County. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is second with $512,844, and an unopposed Sen. Joe Negron, R-Palm City, is third with $473,300. Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, also had a strong showing, raising $260,570.

While Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, is still showing a low fundraising total for an incumbent senator, with just over $84,375, she also reported a total in-kind contribution from the Florida Democratic Party of $62,000 to compensate her campaign staff.

Shaking things up even further, Democratic Reps. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington, Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth and Mack Bernard of West Palm Beach have left their House races to run for new Senate districts awaiting Florida Supreme Court approval. Also entering the Senate shuffle is former Rep. Kevin Rader, who has already raised $72,205.

As a result of redistricting, several House candidates will be running for different seats than they previously held. New district maps have been submitted to the Florida Supreme Court for final approval, which is expected any day.

In the Florida House, Rep. Pat Rooney, R-Jupiter, with a total of $70,374, and Rep. Bill Hager, R-Boca Raton, with $73,525, are the top fundraisers. Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, is also at the top of the list, but redistricting may carve Palm Beach County from his district.

At the county level, Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits, Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock, Tax Collector Anne Gannon and Supervisor of Elections Susan Bucher are all facing opponents. None has raised more than Bock’s $25,000 total. Public Defender Carey Houghwout is currently unopposed. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has jumped ahead of his three opponents with $229,900 raised. New on the scene is state attorney candidate Dave Aronberg, who raised an astounding $275,279 in his first few months in the race.

While a pending court case will decide if term limits for the County Commission are constitutional, the race for Karen Marcus’ District 1 seat and Burt Aaronson’s District 5 seat are heating up. Five Republicans have filed for District 1, with Hal Valeche leading the pack with over $123,877 raised. David Levy, the lone Democrat, reported just over $50,000 raised. The District 5 seat has four candidates, with Aaronson’s administrative assistant, Mary Lou Berger, out in front with $88,882 raised.

In 2002, over 70 percent of Palm Beach County voters approved a ballot referendum on term limits for the County Commission. Still unknown is whether Aaronson or Marcus will run again if term limits are overturned.

As reported last quarter, the three School Board members on the ballot this year — Monroe Benaim in District 1, Chuck Shaw in District 2 and Frank Barbieri in District 5 — have shown little activity so far. Benaim has not yet filed, though four challengers have. Shaw has no opponents, and Barbieri so far faces one challenger.

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