United for Care Director Ben Pollara: We're Pivoting From Medical Marijuana Petition to Get-Out-the-Vote Drive

An organization is a terrible thing to waste. Especially if you're in the business of winning Florida elections and the organization is one that in six short months canvassed statewide, located more than 700,000 legally registered voters and got them to sign a petition to amend the state constitution. Think of the mailing lists!

Having placed the medical marijuana referendum on the 2014 ballot, United for Care (UFC) stands as a ready-made get-out-the-vote campaign. The organization is already shifting gears, with inevitable consequences for the 2014 governor's race. Here's what UFC executive director Ben Pollara this week told New Times about the battle ahead.

See also: Florida Supreme Court Approves Medical Marijuana Initiative

New Times: You're switching from petition-gathering to a get-out-the-vote drive, right? Ben Pollara: That's certainly going to be part of what happens. We're transitioning into a full general election campaign. This has been grassroots from the beginning and it will continue to be grassroots through Election Day. We're gonna put a lot of focus on turning out our voters and make sure they get to the polls and that we're successful.

It's a partisan issue now, isn't it? Rick Scott opposes it; Charlie Crist supports it. How is anyone going to separate what you're doing from the Crist campaign? Charlie Crist is going to be running for governor and we're trying to get an amendment passed. They're two separate issues.

No consultation back and forth? Would that be illegal, in fact? There's very little that's illegal under Florida campaign law. I don't know what communications we will have back and forth with the Crist campaign. I've not had any coordination with them or any other campaign so far. Charlie needs to get 50% plus one and we need to get 60%. So we're going to need a lot of Republicans and a lot of independents, libertarians... So there may be some overlap in what our voters look like but it's definitely going to be two different campaigns.

You said you've had no coordination so far. Are you speaking for the whole organization or just yourself? If anyone else in the organization has coordination I would know about it. So yeah, I'm speaking for the organization as a whole. I can't speak for [chief UfC benefactor and Crist advisor] John Morgan.

John wasn't involved in UFC's day-to-day operations? John is our chairman and our biggest booster, both from a public relations perspective and a financial perspective. In terms of the actual operation of the campaign, John is a very busy businessman so he has left it to me to run the day-to-day operations.

Notwithstanding all that, Rick Scott is going to say "A vote for Charlie is a vote for pot." Is Florida now going to become ground zero in the marijuana wars? I don't believe so. We're running a campaign focussed on medical marijuana and much of the discussion has moved on past where we are to the adult use of marijuana. That's not the conversation we're having and that's not the amendment we're trying to pass.

But don't you feel Rick Scott is going to tar you with that anyway, or tar Charlie? His attorney general tried to keep the amendment off the ballot. He's spoken out against it. He's going to have a pile of money to spend. You don't expect a huge propaganda push that medical marijuana is bogus and just a ruse to get to adult use? I don't think so. And if you look at some of the statements the governor has made in the past couple of days it doesn't indicate he's going to be beating the drum on this issue. He said "I'm personally opposed to it but the people get to decide and I'm the governor. I will implement the law of the land." And frankly, if I were him and I were looking at the poll numbers on this issue it would behoove him not to get too far out in front of this in terms of opposition. It's a long campaign and we'll see how the issue evolves. I'm sure it will an issue but I don't know if it will be a defining issue.

You do have everything in place -- the people, the mailing lists... We've been running a statewide campaign for six months now and we have our grassroots team in place. We're reconfiguring our staff, moving people to different places and changing roles. The pieces are still coming together. We have an infrastructure is place but what it looks like today is now what it will look like in a month. Or what it will look like in three months or in six months. It's a growing, evolving animal.

It looks like a turnkey operation. You're saying to your troops: "Let's do it again. But instead of saying 'Sign this petition' you're saying 'Let's get to the polls.'" I like your optimism. I hope we can make the transition as easily as you describe it.

One thing we didn't get out of Pollara was the state of UfC's finances. Their petition campaign is estimated to have cost $3-4 million. A fully funded get-out-the-vote drive carries a $10 million ticket. How much John Morgan is willing to kick in is unknown. So as things now stand, the fundraising has begun.

Fire Ant -- an invasive species, tinged bright red, with an annoying, sometimes-fatal sting -- covers Palm Beach County. Got feedback or a tip? Contact Fire.Ant@BrowardPalmBeach.com.

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