Gov. Charlie Crist has a lot of wealthy friends.
And many of them, from plaintiff lawyers and corporate executives to New York socialites and Tallahassee lobbyists, have cut checks to his U.S. Senate bid for the full $4,800 they're allowed to give to a federal candidate, according to Crist's fundraising report.
More than one-fourth — 580 — of the 2,100 contributors who helped Crist raise a whopping $4.3 million have now maxed out for both the 2010 primary and general elections, meaning they can't be asked to give again.
And the vast majority of Crist's donors gave checks larger than $1,000 — many giving the full $2,400 allowed for the primary election — meaning the governor won't have as many names to turn to in his fundraising Rolodex during the next 16 months.
But Crist advisers say the campaign hasn't tapped out its home state.
"There's still plenty of money left in Florida," said Crist adviser and lobbyist Brian Ballard, who along with his wife, Kathryn, gave the maximum $9,600. "But he put a big dent in Florida."
By comparison, Crist's long-shot GOP primary opponent, Marco Rubio, reported 2,500 contributors during the three-month period ending June 30, with only about 100 of them giving the limit. Rubio totaled only $340,000 and this week started trimming his paid staff.
Crist's Democratic opponent, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek of Miami, who has raised about $2.6 million in the first six months of this year, has maxed out only 139 of his 4,300 contributors.
Many of Meek's donors have signed up to pay $20.10 a month, said campaign strategist Ana Cruz, which lets the candidate keep returning to them through the general election.
"Charlie can't go back to ask a lot of those people for help again," Cruz said.
Federal election law allows individuals to give a maximum of $2,400 for a primary election and $2,400 for a general election, or a maximum of $4,800. At least $1.4 million of Crist's massive war chest can't be spent during his primary campaign but must be held for the general election.
Smashing recordsCrist's campaign machine rewrote the record books for a Florida U.S. Senate campaign in its first 50 days. He was the highest-grossing Senate candidate in the country for the fundraising period that ran from April through June.
His urgency in asking donors to write the biggest checks now reflects the campaign's strategy to "drain the swamp" — thinking that campaign cash will be harder to come by later in the election season, several donors said.
"I think his ability to raise money will be less [going forward] than in the past," said Miami-Dade lobbyist Ron Book, who gave Crist the maximum $4,800, as did his wife.
"Everybody that has gotten out early is smart."
George LeMieux, Crist's former campaign manager and chief of staff in the Governor's Office, conceded the bad economy and Crist's huge footprint early in the 2009-10 election cycle probably accounted for lower fundraising totals for other Republicans and the state party.
"In large part," he said, "people are competing for the same dollars."
Crist's fundraising strategy has already shifted to target more out-of-state dollars in places such as North Carolina, where wealthy Floridians spend their summers; and New York, where he raised funds at private dinners last weekend.
Earlier this year, billionaire developer Donald Trump and Yankees outfielder Johnny Damon showed up at ritzy dinners in the Hamptons for Crist, whose wife, Carole Rome, has helped him gain entrance into New York social circles.
This week, he was in Washington for back-to-back fundraisers hosted by federal lobbyists.
Using 'bundlers'Crist's campaign has leaned on a handful of "bundlers" — lobbyists who collect multiple checks from friends, clients and relatives — to raise nearly $190,000 so far.
Ponte Vedra Beach-based lobbyist T. Martin Florentino, whose clients include CSX Transportation and AT&T, collected $139,250 for Crist. Tallahassee-based health-care lobbyist James Eaton raised another $50,700.
The list of 580 contributors who maxed out includes U.S. Sugar Corp. CEO Robert Buker and chief company lobbyist Bob Coker. Both were at the center of Crist's successful push for the state to buy U.S. Sugar's land holdings to try to restore the natural water flow of the Everglades.
Prominent GOP contributor Gary Morse, developer of The Villages, his wife and several relatives each gave the $4,800 maximum.
And a half-dozen attorneys with Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan's Morgan & Morgan mega-law firm maxed out at a fundraiser that netted $300,000 for Crist in June. Crist's lieutenant governor, Jeff Kottkamp, is a former partner in the Morgan firm.
Morgan, a Democrat, is supporting Alex Sink in the governor's race against Republican Bill McCollum. But he said Crist will be the top draw for those willing to open their checkbooks this political season.
"Charlie Crist is the blueprint for Republicans, if they are going to be a national party instead of a bunch of angry male rednecks in the South," Morgan said.
Aaron Deslatte, who reported from Tallahassee, can be reached at 850-222-5564 or email@example.com. Mark K. Matthews, who reported from Washington, can be reached at 202-824-8222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun