Politicians talk local, but don’t spend local

Ever wonder how much $324,000 can buy?

It could supply ribs and sides for 25 families at Hungry Harry’s Family Bar-B-Que for an entire year.

It could feed a complete Thanksgiving dinner from Publix to nearly every person living in Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes.

Denny Esber got some local political work for Pasco County Commission candidates like Henry Wilson Jr., and Mike Moore, but said he could feel the pinch of hundreds of thousands of dollars leaving the county. (Michael Hinman/Staff Photo)

Denny Esber got some local political work for Pasco County Commission candidates like Henry Wilson Jr., and Mike Moore, but said he could feel the pinch of hundreds of thousands of dollars leaving the county. (Michael Hinman/Staff Photo)

It could hire 15 people for an entire year at $10 an hour, with enough money left over to add a part-timer at the same rate.

In three local political races that ended Nov. 4, six candidates spent $324,000 — to people and businesses outside of Pasco County. In fact, of the more than $455,000 these Pasco County Commission and state House candidates spent since Nov. 1, 2013, only 29 percent of it stayed local.

Beverly Ledbetter, who ran as a Democrat for Florida House District 38, had the worst local campaign spending, with less than 10 percent remaining in Pasco County. However, when it came to total dollars, new Pasco County commissioner Mike Moore sent the most money outside the county — nearly $109,000, or 66 percent of his expenditures.

“Our campaign bought local services when available, such as some printing supplies and materials,” Ledbetter told The Laker/Lutz News in an email. “I used a local Dade City printer for some work, and a local company for the T-shirts. Unfortunately, East Pasco — including Wesley Chapel — does not have any commercial mailing operation that I was aware of, and that comprises the bulk of my out-of-district purchases.”

Since the end of the primary, Ledbetter spent just $1,800 of the more than $28,000 she received locally, according to an analysis of campaign finance records by The Laker/Lutz News. She paid nearly $15,600 to Sonic Print in Tampa in the last reporting period alone, for what were described as mailers. Another $440 went to a company called Parkway Strategies in Tallahassee for what the campaign said was “strategic communications.”

Although his local spending was much better than Ledbetter’s, Danny Burgess — who eventually would win the House seat — was still behind all four county commission candidates tracked. He spent more than $35,000 locally, but sent $96,000 away.

Not having services available locally shows the need for such services to be developed, Ledbetter said. But there are still many services available locally which candidates looked outside of Pasco for, especially printing. And companies like Point to Point Printing in Land O’ Lakes feel it when money isn’t spent here.

“There are plenty of people here,” said Point to Point’s owner Denny Esber. He saw about $10,000 worth of work this election cycle from candidates like Moore and former county commissioner Henry Wilson Jr. But there was still more he and other business owners missed out on.

“With jobs like this, the money comes back and then I can re-spend that money in this community,” Esber said. “It just keeps going and going and going and going.”

A lot of money leaves the county for advertising and consulting. In the last two weeks of his campaign, Burgess spent $61,500. However, just $4,000 of that — less than 7 percent — stayed local. Instead, nearly $57,000 was paid to a pair of Jensen Beach companies for advertising.

In all, Burgess spent $81,500 with that company, or 63 percent of his total expenditures. That’s enough alone to create four full-time jobs at $10 an hour.

Ledbetter on the other hand spent $22,209 with Sonic Print, or 69 percent of her total expenditures, sending all that money to Tampa’s Carrollwood area.

But the commission races weren’t much different. Moore only kept 34 percent of his spending local, but his opponent — Erika Remsberg — didn’t do much better at 39 percent. Since the end of February, both candidates sent $115,000 out of the county, some $30,000 more than what they wanted taxpayers to pay them each year in salary as a commissioner.

“First, I was disappointed my local spending amount was so low,” Remsberg said in an email. “Must be because the Tarpon union printer I used was just over the border. Secondly, I think reporting the amounts donated is more important than the percentages. Given the vast difference in amounts donated to our contributions, I think percentages do not paint the picture as well as the dollar amount does.”

Twice in October, Moore spent more than $20,000, but less than 6 percent remained local. Instead, he spent $37,323 with Majority Strategies in Ponte Vedra for advertising, and nearly $3,000 with Allegra Marketing in Tampa for printing.

Even food preparation was not something Moore could find locally, spending $2,224 for food at a fundraiser supplied by Catering by the Family in Tampa.

Moore did not respond to a request for comment.

Published November 12, 2014

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