Democratic committee shifts money to GOP group to run ad for Aronberg

Aug 11, 2010

Michael Bender

Palm Beach Post

After agreeing to not air television ads in the Democratic
attorney general primary because of its potentially misleading name, a
fund-raising committee known as Florida Mainstream Democrats has shifted
much of its money to a predominately Republican group, which has paid
for a TV spot scheduled to air today in West Palm Beach.

The ad
supports state Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres in his Democratic
primary race against fellow Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach.

has helped Mainstream raise more than $242,000 in the past eight weeks,
according to state election records and the group's website. On Monday,
the group transferred $180,000 to another political committee, known as
Voters Response, which will pay for the ad.

In an e-mail to The
Palm Beach Post, Aronberg said he had no control over how the group
spent its money and pointed out that other Democrats collect money for
Mainstream. The others include state Reps. Joe Abruzzo of Wellington and
Janet Long of Seminole.

"We are all given the assurance that it
will only be used to help Democrats get elected — and that assurance
continues today," Aronberg's e-mail said.

Gelber's campaign manager said it was "very troubling" that Mainstream sent money to a "GOP-backed group."

deserves a thorough explanation from Dave Aronberg as to why he
fund-raised for Mainstream Democrats and allowed such a contribution to
take place," Gelber campaign manager Christian Ulvert said.

Wilder, a Democratic strategist who runs Mainstream, told Florida
Democratic Party officials this summer that the group would not attach
its name to any mailers or TV ads during the primary season after some
Democrats objected to Aronberg using the group to raise money.

group's name is identical to a former statewide political committee
that held annual conventions and supported moderate and conservative
candidates. The original Mainstream group, which Aronberg ran for
several years, was shuttered earlier this year.

Eric Jotkoff, a
spokesman for the Florida Democratic Party, said Wilder's Mainstream
group did not violate the agreement because the Voters Response name
will instead be attached to the ad.

"Mainstream agreed to not do
any kind of communication in the Democratic primary," Jotkoff said.
"That remains true to this day."

Wilder said Voters Response is not a Republican group.

not going into why or who we sent money to," Wilder said. "We chose to
spend this portion of our money. It's within the law."

campaign finance records through July 31, the most recent available to
the public, show Voters Response has predominately paid Republican

More than half of its money was spent on Data
Targeting, a Gainesville direct mail company whose Republican clients
have included Senate President Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Bill
McCollum and the Republican Party of Florida.

Voters Response also
paid Bascom Communications, a Republican consulting firm used by state
GOP Chairman John Thrasher and incoming Senate President Mike
Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. State Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Sarasota, has
also worked for the group.

Voters Response is run by Republican
attorney Dave Ramba, a Tallahassee lobbyist whose clients include
Callery-Grove L.P. and the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Ramba also played a
role in a race-baiting mailer sent by another political committee in
2008 to Jacksonville Republicans that juxtaposed images of President
Obama and black marchers and warned that Black Panthers and "armed
thugs" could intimidate voters.

Ramba said Voters Response has
worked for a Democrat running for county commission, but would not
identify the candidate or county.

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Political advertisement paid for and approved by Dan Gelber.