Clawson Wins Florida U.S. House Primary Rife With Super-PAC Cash

Businessman and self-funded candidate Curt Clawson won a Republican U.S. House primary in Florida yesterday, a race marked by his own spending and outlays by super-political action committees.

In the four-candidate race, Clawson had 38 percent of the vote with all precincts reporting in the Associated Press tally. Running second with 26 percent was Lizbeth Benacquisto, while Paige Kreegel, whose candidacy was propelled by a $1 million super-PAC investment by two of his childhood friends, had 25 percent. Michael Dreikorn trailed with 11 percent.

The top three candidates and outside groups assisting Kreegel and Benacquisto waged heavy television advertising campaigns for the seat vacated by Republican Representative Trey Radel, who resigned in January after his arrest in Washington for cocaine possession.

Clawson, who loaned his campaign at least $3.4 million, aired 20 different ads that accounted for more than one-third of the 6,800 broadcast, according to New York-Based Kantar Media’s CMAG, an advertising tracker.

The race also highlighted the latest trend in campaign finance: super-PACS formed exclusively to benefit a congressional candidate, scaled-down versions of the moneyed groups that played an outsized role in the 2012 presidential election. Unlike candidates, these groups are unbound by campaign finance limits.

Friends’ Help

Kreegel, a physician and former state representative, counted on the super-PAC Values Are Vital, which his longtime friends -- Ronald Firman and Martin Burns -- infused with more than $1 million. Values Are Vital advertised early and often for Kreegel, who struggled to raise money in the $2,600 chunks by which direct donations to candidates are limited.

Kreegel’s most recent campaign-finance report to the U.S. Federal Election Commission, through April 2, shows he raised about $126,000 and loaned his election effort almost $500,000. A second super-PAC also assisted Kreegel, who unsuccessfully sought the same seat in 2012 Republican primary.

In a videotaped interview last month with the Naples Daily News editorial board, Kreegel said he needed his friends’ help.

“This is going to be a vastly foreshortened race, and the idea of collecting money again once you’ve lost a race becomes much more difficult,” he said.

Two more super-PACs boosted Benacquisto, a state senator. Clawson, in relying on his own money, wasn’t aided by such groups.

April Freeman, a businesswoman and former Republican, is the Democratic nominee in the June 24 special election to fill the remainder of Radel’s two-year term.

The Republican bent of the district, which encompasses parts of the Gulf Coast south of Tampa, means Clawson heads into the June election with a significant advantage. Radel won his seat in the 2012 election by more than 26 percentage points.

The seat will again be on the ballot in this November’s general election, as with all of the House’s 435 districts. Florida’s primary for choosing candidates in the November vote will be held Aug. 26.

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