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Rick v. Rick Autopsy: Money haul blows past $3 million mark

ST. PETERSBURG — It's all over except for counting up the cash.

In a milestone that should surprise no one after mayoral race-turned-street fight between Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker, their total fundraising efforts surpassed the $3 million contribution mark days before the Nov. 7 election.

That's roughly five times what was raised four years ago when Kriseman bested former Mayor Bill  Foster. The mayoral candidates in that 2013 race together raised just under $700,000.

As if it need be said one more time, Rick vs. Rick was exponentially the most expensive election in St. Petersburg history.

Baker raised over $1.8 million thanks to individual campaign contributions and money flowing into his political-action committee, Seamless Florida. Kriseman collected about $1.38 million between hard money contributions and soft money  tossed into his Sunrise PAC.

And that's just in the reports filed up to Nov. 2. The final tally won't be available for weeks and will likely keep growing, given the last-minute nasty mailers that bombarded mailboxes and the TV and radio ads that ran around the clock attacking both candidates.

In the end, Baker's bigger pile of cash wasn't enough. Kriseman beat Baker with 51.6 percent of the vote, prevailing by 2,186 votes out of a record 66,892 ballots cast.

Kriseman got plenty of help, though, from the state Democratic Party, which used its clout to get discount rates for TV ads.

The latest returns show familiar faces helped each camp.

Tampa Bay Rowdies owner Bill Edwards gave another $25,000 to Baker in this latest election report. Baker has been the president of the Edwards Group since 2012 and led the Rowdies' successful May 29 referendum to renovate Al Lang Stadium. That latest contribution brought Edwards' total contributions to about six figures for the six-month Baker campaign.

Liberty Florida, a PAC controlled by state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, donated another $60,000 in October, bringing his total support to nearly $200,000.

Kriseman got a $40,000 bump in October from America Votes, a Washington, D.C. Super PAC tied to liberal causes. Craig Sher, a real estate developer and longtime Kriseman backer, and family members also poured in thousands during the race's final days.

It was in the midst of this expensive race that the St. Petersburg City Council (with Kriseman's support) passed an ordinance to limit PAC contributions in future elections in October. It limits the amount an individual can give to a PAC to $5,000 a year  and also requires donors to disclose more about themselves.

The council voted to limit PAC contributions knowing it could serve as a test case to challenge the landmark 2010 Citizens United vs. the Federal Elections Commission decision. That's when the U.S. Supreme Court removed restrictions on how much outside groups can spend to influence elections, setting the stage seven years later for the most expensive race in St. Petersburg history.

The measure takes effect on Jan. 1.

Contact Charlie Frago at [email protected] or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.

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