Lee won't use committee fund in campaign


Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
TALLAHASSEE - Some have called Senate President Tom Lee a hypocrite for talking about curbing the use of political committees to raise money while maintaining a $1 million fund of his own.
On Tuesday, Lee, a Brandon Republican, tried to turn aside some of that criticism by announcing he would not use his Floridians Uniting for a Stronger Tomorrow fund to aid his campaign for chief financial officer.
"I will not use a dollar of that money in furtherance of my campaign," Lee told newspaper editors and reporters gathered at the Associated Press' legislative conference. "It was never my intention."
Lee, who is running to replace CFO Tom Gallagher on the Cabinet, has raised $937,000 for his campaign in donations not exceeding $500 each. But he had also previously raised $1.2 million for the FUST fund, which as a political committee had no restrictions on the size of the donations, which include a $50,000 contribution. Some suggested he could use that $1.2 million to boost his Cabinet campaign.
Lee called that an unfounded allegation. He said his political committee was formed as he was moving into the Senate presidency and he wanted the fund to provide support for issues and senators who were allied with him.
But Lee also conceded that criticism of the fund had become a "distraction," as he announced this year he would push for new campaign reforms that would try to curb the use of the largely unregulated committee funds in the political process.
Lee, though, said he didn't have any immediate plans to disband his fund or return the donations. He said the money could still be used for its original purpose to "communicate messages" or support senators.
One of biggest critics of Lee's fund has been state Rep. Randy Johnson, R-Celebration, who is running against Lee in the Republican primary for the CFO race. He has tried unsuccessfully to get Lee to sign a pledge saying he wouldn't use political committee money in his campaign.
Johnson called Lee's decision a positive step. "Another $1 million slush fund has been potentially removed from the elections process," he said.
Meanwhile, Lee sharply criticized Johnson for bringing his pledge proposal to the Senate president's office last week when Lee was not there.
Lee called it "an embarrassment to the Legislature for someone to take up a campaign issue in the office of the Senate president."
Johnson said there was nothing overtly political about taking his pledge proposal to Lee's office and dropping it off with a staff member.

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