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How Rick Scott Can Get Away With Raking In Millions in Unlimited Contributions

Gov. Rick Scott spent $73 million of his own money in the 2010 governor's race. When asked in April if he'd be cutting more checks for reelection in 2014, he responded, simply, "I won't have to... I don't know what it will cost, but we'll have the money to win."

And if the donations to his "Let's Get to Work" fund thus far are any indication, he could be right. He's got an advantage over candidates who will use a standard campaign contribution structure, with donation limits and close monitoring of totals. He's got a 527 organization -- which means he can take as much money as he wants, from anyone.

A Sarasota insurance company gave him $50,000 on Monday, for example, and Las Vegas billionaire Sheldon Adelson, who recently spent millions keeping Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign afloat, gave $250,000 -- the same amount Florida Power & Light just chipped in.

The organization is required to disclose its donors to the Federal Election Commission but also posts them on its website. You can see for yourself -- Fort Lauderdale Republican Wayne Huizenga gave $250,000 last month, and Boca-based prison company GEO Group gave $100,000. Donald Trump tossed in $50,000 back in April.

So when the feds clearly limit individual contributions to candidates to $2,500 per election, how is this allowed? Technically, they're not giving it to Scott.

"Let's Get to Work" is an independent organization, even though it bears the same name as Scott's job creation plan. So as long as it doesn't coordinate with the Scott campaign or "expressly advocate" for any candidate's election or defeat, it can take in as much money as it wants. That still gives it plenty of leeway: Swift Boat Veterans for Truth, for example, was a 527 that "torpedoed" John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign by questioning the medals he earned in Vietnam and launching one of the most extensive smear campaigns in history. And it could take in as much money as it wanted.

Columbia Law School Professor Richard Briffault explains that the groups get around the traditional contribution limits by at least claiming to advocate for particular issues.

"If we're talking about committees that spend independently, whether on issues or in support of or on the behalf of candidates," he said, "there basically are no limits."

I asked him about the assertion on the "Let's Get to Work" homepage that "Let's Get to Work is supported by Governor Rick Scott, Governor."

"He's very clever," Briffault said. "It doesn't say 'Let's Get to Work supports Gov. Scott'... It's OK for an elected official to endorse the activity of an independent committee; it's a problem when it works the other way around."

I pointed out that John French, the organization's "coordinator," is a longtime lobbyist who worked on Scott's 2010 campaign. Briffault said campaign staffs shifting to "independent" organizations is "a common thing."

It's not clear how much it will cost Scott to get reelected -- but it's clear, more than two years ahead of time, that there will be plenty of money to spend.

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Rich Abdill

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