Sun Sentinel: Republicans spend big in Democratic state Senate primary

by Dan Sweeney

Republicans are funneling tens of thousands of dollars into a Democratic state Senate primary in Broward County, and the money is going to former Democratic state Rep. Jim Waldman.

The largest single contribution — $31,500 on Aug. 9 — to Waldman's campaign committee came from Protecting Leadership Principles, a committee whose chairman is former Republican state Rep. Eddy Gonzalez of Hialeah. 

Waldman said that he knew Gonzalez from when they both served in the state House, and that "Eddy is a good friend."

Attempts to reach Gonzalez by phone and email were unsuccessful this week.

The money funnel doesn't start with Gonzalez. This month, Gonzalez's committee got $55,000 from Jobs For Florida, the committee of state Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby. Prior to that, it received few contributions since Gonzalez left office in 2014.
Simpson is set to be Florida Senate president in 2020, when Waldman would be running for re-election if he wins his primary race this year. 

"Republican Wilton Simpson gives money to Republican political committees," said Brian Hughes, a spokesman for Jobs For Florida. "Anything beyond that is the business of the other committee."

Hughes said that the money sent to Gonzalez's committee was sent with the knowledge that "there are a number of competitive races for Republicans in South Florida," especially in Miami-Dade County, where redistricting has made Senate districts more Democratic.

Waldman is in a tight three-way primary for state Senate District 34, which includes the entire coastline of Broward County, from Deerfield Beach to Hallandale Beach. He faces state Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed, D-Deerfield Beach, and trial lawyer Gary Farmer. Pollsshow Farmer and Waldman essentially tied, with Clarke-Reed a few points behind.

Including his Coalition for Responsible Government committee and his campaign, Waldman has raised more than $977,000 for the race. Farmer and his committee have raised about $1.6 million. Clarke-Reed has raised $26,000. 

The big money in the race has translated into piles of flyers left in residents' mailboxes, including false accusations from Farmer's committee that Waldman had an A rating with the NRA. Waldman apparently erroneously received an A rating from the gun rights group in 2010, a rating that was subsequently corrected to a D.

Waldman said he was unaware the money that came from Gonzalez's committee originated with Simpson.

"I'm not aware that that money's come from him," he said. "I assumed [Gonzalez] believes in somebody who believes in good government."

Campaign finance records show that, while Gonzalez's committee did not receive a single contribution in 2015, it remained active, charging more than $3,300 in meal expenses at bars, nightclubs and restaurants from January 2015 to August 2016.

[email protected], 954-356-4605 or Twitter @Daniel_Sweeney

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