Carlos Beruff is trying to buy the Florida Senate race

by | Jun 17, 2016

“I’m Carlos Beruff. I’m not a politician, I’m a businessman running for Senate,” begins one of the television ads that has been blanketing the airwaves in Florida lately. Beruff has dumped millions of his own money into the campaign to attempt to paint himself as an outsider, but even though he may not have held elected office before, he’s still the ultimate insider’s insider. His campaign finance records tell the tale.

Beruff has a thirteen year history of bundling massive checks to political candidates and securing government appointments for himself. Contrary to his claims that he’s “sick of the status quo in Washington,” he’s been the guy bankrolling that status quo.

Since 2001, Beruff has given more than one million dollars in political contributions, either directly, through his wife, or through his companies. (Sources: CQ Political MoneyLine, The Miami Herald, and Florida Division of Elections.)

Unlike federal law, Florida law allows political contributions from companies, and Beruff has been able to bundle contributions from his many corporate entities to get past the statutory contribution limits (currently $3,000 per individual or corporate entity for most races; was previously $500).

Of course, the crucial issue is the recipients of those donations.

A “Charlie Crist Republican,” even after we all knew better

The 2010 Republican primary for Florida’s Senate seat had the entire Republican establishment supporting then-Gov. Charlie Crist, who had proven increasingly liberal and untrustworthy while in office. Crist was immediately endorsed by the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) and the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), led by Crist’s hand-picked Chairman, Jim Greer, did everything they could to pressure and intimidate anyone who supported former Florida Speaker of the House Marco Rubio.

Everyone knows how that story ended: Rubio kept gaining ground in the polls until Crist was scared out of the Republican primary. Crist ran as an independent, then tried and failed to bully Democrat Rep. Kendrick Meek out of the race. Rubio still captured nearly 50 percent of the vote in a three-way general election contest against Crist and Meek, RPOF tossed out Greer (who later spent some time in jail for financial shenanigans while he was at RPOF), and Crist scurried over to the Democrats.

Beruff has been calling Crist a “con man” in interviews during this election, but he had no problem writing that con man big checks for years. Here’s a list (data pulled from Florida Division of Elections):

beruff crist donations

Beruff contributed to Crist’s Senate campaign the maximum allowed (in 2010, the federal contribution limit was $2,400 per individual for the primary and then an additional $2,400 to be reserved for the general) on June 1, 2009, less than a month after Crist launched his campaign.

Beruff’s support for Crist didn’t wane when Crist abandoned the Republican Party.

As the Sarasota Herald-Tribune reported on April 22, 2010, “some of [Crist’s] biggest GOP donors are vowing to stick with him even if he leaves the party and runs as an independent for the U.S. Senate…Those standing behind Crist include…Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff.”

Crist would announce he was running as an independent less than a month later. Beruff never donated to Rubio.

Quid Pro Quo? Cushy political appointments follow Beruff’s donations

We can find some questionable ties even when Crist was still claiming to be a Republican. The contributions list also shows that Beruff bundled $12,500 to Crist’s 2006 gubernatorial campaign (the contribution limit was $500 that year), and an additional $10,000 to “Floridians for Truth and Integrity in Government,” an electioneering communications organization (also called ECO, a type of PAC allowed under Florida election law) that was formed to help Crist. In that race, the conservative candidate was then-Florida Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher.

Crist ended up giving Beruff a series of political appointments, including to the Sarasota-Bradenton Airport Authority, the Southwest Florida Water Management Board, and the State College Of Florida Board. These appointed positions can yield powerful local influence, and it’s not hard to see why a developer like Beruff would want them. The water management board appointment came in July 2009, just one month after Beruff had maxed out his donation to Crist’s Senate campaign.

Current Florida Gov. Rick Scott has also been the beneficiary of Beruff’s generous checkbook, and has also appointed or reappointed Beruff to various boards and agencies. Beruff has donated over one hundred thousand dollars to Scott’s campaign or to his PAC, Let’s Get to Work, again by bundling checks from his companies (data from Florida Division of Elections):

beruff scott donations

Beruff’s tenure in these appointed positions has been repeatedly marked by controversy, including constant clashes with the State College of Florida’s administration, leading local press to write a series of stories portraying him as a “bully” and a “lickspittle and hit man” for Gov. Scott. Beruff also raised questions when he used his last day on the Southwest Florida Water Management Board to approve a residential subdivision project in a protected wetlands area. The developer for that project was Pat Neal, a close friend of Beruff’s since 1982 and past business partner.

Can’t get much more establishment than this

Beruff has also attempted to paint himself as the Senate version of Donald Trump, an outsider candidate who speaks for the grassroots against the establishment. Trying to ride Trump’s coattails may be of decreasing value, as RedState’s Leon Wolf pointed out, but Trump did win Florida’s primary.

So who did he support in this year’s presidential race?

Jeb Bush.

Beruff gave $5,000 to Right to Rise, Bush’s Super PAC on January 29, 2015, well before Bush officially entered the race (Source: CQ Political MoneyLine).

But what about Rubio?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard of the speculation that Rubio may in fact run for re-election. Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Rubio’s longtime friend who is also currently running for the seat, urged him to reconsider running after the terrorist attacks in Orlando.

Beruff has vowed to stay in the race no matter what Rubio does, which he can do because of his ability to self-fund his campaign. Rep. David Jolly has said he would drop out and endorse Rubio (but he’s expected to drop out soon anyway and run for reelection to his Congressional seat). Former CIA officer Todd Wilcox has said he would stay in, and Rep. Ron DeSantis has said he might stay in or might run for reelection to his Congressional seat.

The real danger for Florida conservatives is if Rubio decides not to run. (On that note, I’m inclined to agree with Politico’s Marc Caputo, who sees the desire to spend time with his family and in the private sector leading Rubio to lean no, but we’ll know for sure in a few days.)

If Rubio stays out of the race, he is expected to endorse Lopez-Cantera. With Beruff and Wilcox still in the race, and possibly DeSantis as well, the Republican primary would remain a crowded field, and the NRSC has been getting increasingly nervous.

There are better choices in the Florida Senate primary, if the GOP establishment doesn’t get in the way

Rep. Patrick Murphy, the expected Democrat nominee, has the full support of the Democratic establishment. With Murphy’s moderate voting record and Trump depressing turnout — especially among Hispanic Republicans — Murphy is likely to be a tough challenge in swing state Florida.

This fear of an expensive, tough race is what has been a major motivating factor behind the GOP establishment’s increasing agitation for Rubio to get back on the ballot. From Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on down, many have called for Rubio to run. If he doesn’t, the worry is that desperate GOP powers-that-be will turn to Beruff, if for no other reason than he can write the check to fund his campaign himself.

Fundraising will always be a challenge in Florida, with its expensive media markets, but that’s no reason to settle for Beruff. That’s how they tried to give us Charlie Crist in 2010 — who, I remind you, is now a Democrat — and countless other Republican elected officials who have been rightfully criticized in RedState posts for years.

Fair disclosure: Lopez-Cantera is a friend of mine. He’s a good guy and a true conservative, and if I hadn’t moved to Texas a few years ago, he’d have my vote. RedState has endorsed DeSantis, who has an admirably conservative voting record and I’ve enjoyed meeting several times.

Either Lopez-Cantera or DeSantis would be a conservative and ethical voice for Floridians in the Senate, and besides Beruff’s gilded checkbook, they’re the two most likely to be able to put together the fundraising and campaign infrastructure needed to win in November.

Florida Republicans can do a lot better than Carlos Beruff.

Follow Sarah Rumpf on Twitter: @rumpfshaker.

[Originally posted at RedState; cross-posted here with permission.]


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