Three candidates vying for one seat in the state Senate from Florida’s ocean-side District 34 have tipped the scales in terms of campaign fundraising to date, and political pundits are scurrying to connect the dots.
Among trial lawyer Gary Farmer, former state Rep. Jim Waldman and current state Rep. Gwyndolen “Gwyn” Clarke-Reed, the combined coffers topped $900,000 in campaign finance filings as of early May, with Clarke-Reed tallying $17,700, and Farmer and Waldman both surpassing the $470,000 mark.
Apart from setting a new record in total district campaign fundraising in Florida, the trend raises the question of whether money really talks.
"I have been the candidate with less money before, and I won," Clarke-Reed said earlier this year. "I may not have the most money but I use what I have very wisely."
Florida Atlantic University political science professor Kevin Wagner took Clarke-Reed’s logic with a grain of salt.
“I can tell you that fundraising success does not always mean electoral success, but they are usually correlated,” Wagner told the Florida Record. “By that I mean that the candidates (who) raise the most money do tend to win, though there are plenty of exceptions.”
First-time contender Farmer readily voiced his perspective from District 34, comprising Broward County, Deerfield Beach and Hollywood along the Atlantic Coast. While acknowledging that fundraising is an absolute necessity for him as a new candidate —providing him with a “megaphone” — he nonetheless conveyed a sense of responsibility regarding the general implications of disproportionate fundraising.
“I remain very concerned by the explosion of money in politics at every level,” Farmer told the Florida Record. “The current system mandates that successful clients raise large amounts of money, and I must work within that system, but we need reform.”
When it comes to effective communication, he said, “Nothing compares to old fashioned door-knocking and person-to-person contact.”
Farmer rose from humble roots and knows from bootstraps efforts. His father was a high school dropout who served in Korea, then toiled as a janitor to pay his way through law school as young Gary observed. When he came of age, Gary Farmer took those experiences to heart.
“My experience as a child watching my dad work so hard at night school, then sitting in his law school classes and helping clean … taught me the value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes from working hard to chase a dream,” Farmer said. “My dad later became a judge and served for 20 years, (showing) me the importance of public service.”
Farmer was quick to put the subject of currency in perspective, emphasizing his candidacy’s grass-roots nature.
“Money plays a role in getting my message out, but actively seeking our community’s input on various issues and listening to their concerns are what makes our campaign work,” he said, adding that he would not be swayed by lobbyists or special interest funds. “The larger goal is to address issues that affect this district … whether the root cause of poverty problems in South Florida, deficient public education funding, gun safety legislation or protecting a woman’s right to choose.”
Wagner also remains unconvinced that the equation remains simple in a pivotal election year that has already sparked a highly charged atmosphere nationwide.
“I'm not sure that having three candidates by itself means that the race will be expensive,” Wagner, who directs the Jack Miller Forum for Civics Education at FAU’s Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts & Letters in Boca Raton, said. “But, this election environment is difficult. With the presidential race dominating the media, candidates … (will) likely need significant resources to get their message out.”
How directly proportional the campaign breadbaskets will prove to ultimate success in this race remains to be seen. With the election slated for August 30, it’s still anybody’s guess whether political victory depends on money or the message it supports.