Florida Special Election Pits Candidate’s Personal Wealth Against the Power of Super PACs

Curt Clawson has spent millions of his own fortune to become a member of Congress. His two Republican opponents are relying on super PAC money to stop him.

Rep. Trey Radel, R- Fla., is interviewed in the Capitol Hill office in Washington D.C. 
National Journal
Jack Fitzpatrick
Add to Briefcase
See more stories about...
Jack Fitzpatrick
April 20, 2014, 8 a.m.

Curt Clawson wants you to know he’s an out­sider.

Un­like his two lead­ing op­pon­ents in a Flor­ida spe­cial elec­tion on Tues­day, the mil­lion­aire former auto­mot­ive ex­ec­ut­ive nev­er spent any time in the state Le­gis­lature. The word “out­sider” ap­peared in an ad he aired dur­ing the Su­per Bowl, it’s in the name of his cam­paign com­mit­tee, and even in his Twit­ter handle, @Clawson­Out­sider. It’s also re­flec­ted in his en­dorse­ments from Sen. Rand Paul of Ken­tucky, Rep. Michele Bach­mann of Min­nesota, and the State Tea Party Ex­press.

But even as he boasts about his lack of polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence, he’s re­ly­ing on his per­son­al wealth to over­whelm the op­pos­i­tion in Tues­day’s race for former Rep. Trey Radel’s House seat. In the primary, Clawson faces state Sen­ate Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Lizbeth Ben­ac­quisto and former state Rep. Paige Kree­gel, both of whom have two things Clawson does not: polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence and per­son­al su­per PACs. Clawson has spent $2.65 mil­lion of his own money draw­ing at­ten­tion to that fact, re­peatedly men­tion­ing that he is not a politi­cian, and lump­ing Ben­ac­quisto and Kree­gel to­geth­er as the col­lect­ive Tal­l­a­hassee es­tab­lish­ment.

In do­ing so, he has pro­voked a wave of out­side spend­ing from the Liberty and Lead­er­ship Fund, which has spent more than $677,000 back­ing Ben­ac­quisto, and Val­ues Are Vi­tal, which has spent nearly $1.3 mil­lion back­ing Kree­gel. Neither su­per PAC has spent money on any oth­er race, and while Ben­ac­quisto notes that she has no af­fil­i­ation with the Liberty and Lead­er­ship Fund, it has the same ad­dress as her own PAC, Al­li­ance For a Strong Eco­nomy.

It’s rare to see two su­per PACs — both of which ex­ist for the sole pur­pose of a single race — fire back on be­half of two so-called es­tab­lish­ment Re­pub­lic­ans. In that sense, Clawson may have ex­per­i­enced something that be­comes more com­mon in fu­ture primar­ies, spokes­man John Yob said.

“In oth­er cam­paigns, you see something like the Club For Growth in­volved, but it’s al­ways those na­tion­al or­gan­iz­a­tions,” Yob said. “Here, they were very spe­cif­ic to the can­did­ates they sup­port.”

Clawson’s busi­ness back­ground gave the su­per PACs plenty of am­muni­tion. A series of ads by both PACs cri­ti­cized Clawson for a deadly ex­plo­sion in one of his com­pany’s factor­ies, for ac­cept­ing a tax­pay­er-fun­ded bail­out for his busi­ness that went bank­rupt, for his con­nec­tions to a Utah sex of­fend­er, and for once donat­ing to a Demo­crat.

After Clawson had framed the race as a battle between him and every­one else, he had felt the sting when the Liberty and Lead­er­ship Fund and Val­ues Are Vi­tal struck back, along with A Bright Fu­ture, a smal­ler pro-Kree­gel su­per PAC that spent $100,000 on the race.

There hasn’t been much re­li­able pub­lic polling on the race: An auto­mated sur­vey con­duc­ted by Pub­lic Policy Polling in­dic­ates he’s the fa­vor­ite, with sup­port from 38 per­cent of re­spond­ents com­pared to 19 per­cent for Ben­ac­quisto and 17 per­cent for Kree­gel. Avi­ation con­sult­ant Mi­chael Dreikorn, who has struggled to raise funds, has no polit­ic­al ex­per­i­ence, and is not backed by any PACs, re­ceived 18 per­cent of the vote.

If it wasn’t for the pres­ence of the out­side su­per PACs, Clawson’s per­son­al wealth would have all but guar­an­teed him the seat. In­stead, Ben­ac­quisto’s and Kree­gel’s su­per PACs have nar­rowed Clawson’s fin­an­cial ad­vant­age.

Clawson is also not the sole vic­tim of neg­at­ive ads: His cam­paign re­leased a TV ad im­ply­ing Kree­gel il­leg­ally co­ordin­ated with Val­ues Are Vi­tal and cri­ti­ciz­ing Ben­ac­quisto for past cam­paign fin­ance vi­ol­a­tions. Kree­gel had left a voice mes­sage for Clawson to warn him of forth­com­ing neg­at­ive ads by Val­ues Are Vi­tal, later say­ing he had seen the pub­lic FEC re­ports.

“If we learned one thing from the voice­mail situ­ation, it is that even an act of ci­vil­ity can be turned against you,” said Kree­gel cam­paign man­ager Alex Melen­dez in an email. “The fact that it was used against us in a polit­ic­al ad­vert­ise­ment just shows that no good deed goes un­pun­ished.”

The win­ner of the Re­pub­lic­an primary will be the fa­vor­ite in the spe­cial gen­er­al elec­tion on June 24, fa­cing pub­lic re­la­tions firm own­er April Free­man, the lone Demo­crat in the race.

What We're Following See More »
EMERGING BUDGET FRAMEWORK?
Dems Proposes Obamacare-for-Defense Deal
13 hours ago
THE LATEST

"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."

Source:
WHITE HOUSE BLOCKING DOC REQUEST
Michael Flynn Remains A Russian-Sized Problem
14 hours ago
BREAKING

The Michael Flynn story is not going away for the White House as it tries to refocus its attention. The White House has denied requests from the House Oversight Committee for information and documents regarding payments that the former national security adviser received from Russian state television station RT and Russian firms. House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz and ranking member Elijah Cummings also said that Flynn failed to report these payments on his security clearance application. White House legislative director Marc Short argued that the documents requested are either not in the possession of the White House or contain sensitive information he believes is not applicable to the committee's stated investigation.

Source:
SENATE JUDICIARY HEARING
Sally Yates to Testify on May 8
19 hours ago
THE LATEST
MESSAGE TO PUTIN
U.S. To Conduct Exercises In Estonia
19 hours ago
THE DETAILS

The U.S. deployed "F-35 joint strike fighters" to Estonia on Tuesday. The "jets will stay in Estonia for several weeks and will be a part of training flights with U.S. and other NATO air forces." The move comes at a time of high tension between the U.S. and Estonia's neighbor, Russia. The two nations have been at odds over a number of issues recently, most of all being Vladimir Putin's support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in light of Assad's chemical weapons attack on his own people in the midst of a civil war.

Source:
NOT WORRIED ABOUT BUDGET NEUTRALITY
Trump Wants to Slash Corporate Rate to 15%
1 days ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login