Just like the August primary race where he swamped his Republican opponent in fundraising, Republican Ron Cutsinger has achieved the same result against his Democratic opponent, Alice White.
According to their financial reports filed last week, Cutsinger has hauled in $22,950 since the August primary, most of it from development interests, compared to White’s $12,801 raised since the beginning of the year.
While White has generated 67 contributions between $100-200, most of contributions totaled less than $100, with a majority coming from North Port. She also gathered $4,345 from contributors living outside District 5, such as Attorney Morgan Bentley of Sarasota and the Sierra Club of Florida.
All told, since the beginning of his campaign, Cutsinger has raised almost $91,000 and spent almost $77,000 in his quest to gain the seat on the commission.
An analysis of Cutsinger’s contributions indicate that more than half, $15,050 came from outside District 5, something proponents of the single-member district initiative had hoped to avoid.
“However, big money and Dark Money still flow unabated, largely from the development community and their associates, so it is a challenge for candidates not beholden to them to win, unless the people in the district decide the smart growth, environmental protection, quality of life and fair taxes they seek can best be achieved by candidates not beholden to the developers,” Kindra Muntz, president of the Sarasota Alliance for Fair Elections, wrote to the Sun in August.
A controversy involving campaign financing erupted in mid-summer when the Republican party discovered that White and the two other Democrats running for the county commission had all accepted contributions from the state and local party over the county charter’s $200 limitation on contributions.
White said she was aware of the limitation, and when she questioned the contribution, was referred to a state statute that allowed political parties to donate to candidates in excess of limits set to individuals.
“Being a newcomer to politics, in this instance I yielded to the answer I was given by those who have been involved in the political process way longer than me,” White wrote in an email explaining her actions.
She returned $1,800 of the $2,000 contribution she had received.
Section 6.5a of the county charter states, “No candidate for any county office for which compensation is paid shall accept any contribution from any contributor, including any political committee, as defined by state law, in cash or in kind, in an amount in excess of $200.”
But Cutsinger’s report shows that he has engaged in a long-time practice that could be viewed as violating the spirit of the charter limitation, namely, splitting contributions so no single one violates the $200 limitation.
For example, to give Cutsinger $400, Commissioner Alan Maio split the contribution between himself and his wife.
Also questionable in his report are contributions made in both the primary and general elections by the same entity such as Floridians United for a Sustainable Economy, which gave Cutsinger $400 split between the two elections.
Asked for a response, Cutsinger said the contributions met the requirements of the county charter and state law. He also cited a state statute that defined the meaning of the word “election.”
The charter, however, does not contain the words “per election,’ leaving the matter vague.
White took an opposite approach saying that she returned contributions from individuals who had donated after the primary election in an abundance of caution.
Cutsinger and White face off in next Tuesday’s general election for the open District 5 seat on the county commission due to term limits forcing Commissioner Charles Hines off the board.
With single-district voting in place, the results will bring either a representative from Englewood (Cutsinger) or North Port (White) on the county commission. Gene Matthews in the 1990s was the last representative from either town to serve on the commission.