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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Rick Baker has big GOP money behind run for St. Petersburg mayor

Rick Baker, left, and Rick Kriseman, right, are engaged in what is likely to be the most expensive mayoral race in St. Pete history

Charlie Frago

Rick Baker, left, and Rick Kriseman, right, are engaged in what is likely to be the most expensive mayoral race in St. Pete history



ST. PETERSBURG — A campaign filing late Friday offered a first glimpse behind some of the titans shoveling mountains of cash into the St. Petersburg’s mayoral race, widely assumed to be poised to break all records for campaign spending in the Sunshine City.

This week, Rick Baker, a former Republican mayor challenging incumbent Democrat Rick Kriseman announced a record-breaking $553,174 haul in three weeks after entering the race on May 8.

Kriseman, who has been officially raising money through his Sunshine political action committee since December 2015, quickly announced he had topped $500,000, including $110,000 in May.

Now come the details  — at least for Baker.

Amabassador and GOP fundraiser Mel Sembler gave big to the former mayor of the Sunshine City. So did Baker's boss, Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards. Ron Wanek, the Ashley Furniture founder, also ponied up. As did James MacDougald, a health care financial entrepreneur and Jonathan Stanton, a constructive executive.

They all gave $25,000 to Baker’s bid to return to the mayor’s office, a post he held between 2001 and 2010.

Baker also got plenty of cash from a host of political action committee and groups.

His PAC, Seamless Florida, accepted more than $100,000 from PACs and committees controlled by powerful Republicans including Chris Sprowls, Tom Lee and Wilton Simpson.

Overall, Baker’s political action committee raised $387,553 in three weeks in May, according to a filing posted Friday at the state’s Election Division website.

Nearly 50 percent of his 651 individual donors gave $25 or less, the Baker campaign said. And roughly half of the contributors were registered Democrats or independents, according to campaign spokeswoman Brigitta Shouppe. The campaign checked donors' voter registration records to verify party affiliation, she said.

On Saturday, Baker said his donor list reflected his wide base of support and shouldn't be interpreted as a partisan show of force.

"The large portion of the money we've received is from the people of St. Petersburg," Baker told the Tampa Bay Times. "But we also need to understand that when a sitting mayor dumps 200 million gallons of sewage into the bay that its impact is on the environment, ecosystem and the tourism of the entire state.

"It should not be surprising that others are interested about what is going on in St. Petersburg."

Kriseman's campaign then responded with a statment of its own.

"Rick Baker has Trump money because of his silence on issues like climate change," wrote Jacob Smith, Kriseman's campaign manager. "Rick Kriseman doesn't cover up his values and stands by the progress we've made."

Baker has spent just under $30,000 of his PAC money.

Direct contributions totaled another $165,621. Baker’s campaign has spent nearly $32,000 of that amount.

That leaves Baker with close to $500,000 cash on hand.

Kriseman’s campaign hadn’t filed May reports for either his Sunrise PAC or individual contributions by the end of business Friday.

[Last modified: Monday, June 12, 2017 12:30am]


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