Winter Park’s recent mayoral election may be welcoming in a new era of leadership, but it also shattered a previous campaign funding record, with even more money coming from outside Winter Park.
Candidates Steve Leary and Cynthia Mackinnon each raised more than $128,000 in campaign funding, according to city financial reports dated March 6.
“That’s the largest in the city’s history,” Winter Park spokesperson Craig O’Neil said. “None of the other elections come close.”
The highest individual campaign fund Winter Park had seen until this month’s election was Kenneth Marchman’s campaign for reelection back in 2006, which pulled in $72,910.
Marchman would still ultimately lose his seat to opponent David Strong, who raised $41,415.
Mackinnon managed to beat Marchman’s total fundraising by the end of her first month as an official candidate, raising $77,068 by the end of last October.
Leary’s funding would grow more incrementally, moving up by $20,000 to $30,000 each month leading up to the election before arriving at $128,645 – $260 more than Mackinnon’s final total.
But the city’s financial reports don’t give the full funding picture. Any money spent by outside political action committees wasn’t disclosed in the campaigns’ funding totals.
And that money helped exploit a loophole in Florida election laws. Candidates in non-partisan elections such as Winter Park’s are expressly forbidden from campaigning by affiliating with a political party. But that doesn’t prevent politically charged organizations from publishing their own materials in support of a candidate.
In the Winter Park mayoral race advertising financing came in from outside parties such as the Orange County Republican Executive Committee, which distributed mailers in support of Leary, referring to Mackinnon as “a very formidable Democrat former judge” in GOP-leaning Winter Park. Mackinnon said that she had repeatedly told the Orange County Democratic Committee to not help her campaign, though they officially endorsed her.
Winter Park residents such as Shawn Hardy were shocked to hear about the jump in funding from previous years.
“There’s a lot of interest and the candidates realize that, but that’s a huge leap,” Hardy said. “That’s a lot of money in little Winter Park.”
Other residents said they were fine with the increase, as long as the money comes from supporters and not a candidate’s own pocketbook.
“Everybody knows it takes money … you can’t do it on your own,” resident Stewart Peterson said. “If you’re like Mitt Romney who’s independently wealthy, you’re not standing behind the people’s money.”
City Commission candidate and former mayor Gary Brewer took a more frugal approach to his campaign this year while facing opponent Greg Seidel, raising only $16,300.
Brewer wrote on Facebook that he intentionally spent less to prove a point.
“I also wanted to demonstrate that it doesn’t require $120,000 to run for office in Winter Park,” Brewer wrote. “I intentionally chose not to spend any more than $16,000, the amount I raised in 1993 when I ran for mayor.”
Hardy added that increases in Winter Park candidate funding are to be expected as the city grows, but it needs to be monitored.
“It’s something that comes with the territory, but it has to be questioned over time,” Hardy said.
“You can’t keep putting money into politics.”