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News Service of FL


THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, July 28, 2010… The U.S. Chamber of Commerce steered $500,000 to a political committee associated with Bill McCollum a few hours before Wednesday’s announcement that the Republican gubernatorial contender was being endorsed by the Florida chamber.

The national organization sent the money to the Florida First Initiative, a 527 committee that has been running TV ads attacking McCollum’s Republican gubernatorial rival, Rick Scott.

Also on Tuesday, the committee collected a $40,000 check from the Committee for Florida Justice Reform, another 527 loosely associated with the Florida Chamber, whose treasurer is William Large, a former advisor to ex-Gov. Jeb Bush, and chaired by Panhandle hotelier and investor Charlie Hilton.

Such committees draw their name from the section of the IRS code that gives them tax-exempt status.

Another new Florida First contributor is Dennis McGillicuddy, a Sarasota attorney and investor and brother of former Florida U.S. Sen. Connie Mack.

McGillicuddy donated $5,000 to the committee, whose TV spots challenge Scott for having led Columbia/HCA shortly before the health care company paid a record $1.7 billion in fines and settlements for Medicaid and Medicare fraud.

Big-money contributions to 527s have emerged as a powerful undercurrent in the Republican primary for governor, with McCollum relying on at least three committees for help and Scott forming his own committee in an attempt to sidestep campaign finance limits.

Florida First’s biggest contributor continues to be House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who steered $727,000 to it last month from a 527 he controls. But incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, also has emerged as a Florida First donor, having given the organization $190,000 since mid-July, according to finance reports.

The U.S. Chamber’s financial support for McCollum comes shortly after it also recently endorsed Republican Marco Rubio in Florida’s U.S. Senate race.

With the endorsements, Rubio and McCollum gain a link to organization with a couple of positions that prove controversial in Florida. Among them, is the chamber’s call for an end to the federal embargo of Cuba and Chamber President Tom Donohue’s recent suggestion that taxpayers should help cover the cost of Gulf cleanup, easing the impact on BP, a chamber member.

The U.S. Chamber later “clarified” Donohue’s remarks, saying cleanup should “not be on the backs of American taxpayers or businesses.”

Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, distanced himself from the chamber’s Cuba stance, saying “I hope to encourage the chamber and my colleagues in Washington” to drop the push.

McCollum campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said the candidate is “pleased to enjoy tremendous support from business leaders and business owners around the state.”