Miami Herald: Democratic governor candidate mum on Emily’s List funds

Oct 20, 2009

The Miami Herald published this article on October 20, 2009


Alex Sink’s campaign for governor calls her a model of government transparency but won’t disclose how much money she’s received from a group that solicits donations for Democratic women who favor abortion rights.

Emily’s List, one of the largest political action committees in the country, has been promoting Sink since late June. Sink raised $1.6 million between July and September but won’t say how much came from Emily’s List members.

“This is the Sunshine State. And now, more than ever, Floridians ought to have an open and transparent government,” reads Sink’s campaign web site.

Sink, the state’s chief financial officer since 2006, has shied from partisan politics and sought to emphasize her experience as a banker. The Republican frontrunner for governor, Bill McCollum, has badgered her to take sides on controversial issues like a government-run healthcare plan and union-backed legislation in Congress, but Sink won’t take the bait.

She’s outraising McCollum, 2 to 1, partly due to her success at courting some top Republican donors.

“Emily’s List is perceived as a liberal women’s group, and she’s trying to run a moderate campaign,” said Ric Sisser, a Miami political consultant who has co-hosted fundraisers for Sink. “Against a conservative like McCollum, it’s not necessarily something you want to wave as a banner. It’s smart politics.”

McCollum, too, has sought to moderate his image. He declined last month to take a stand on a proposed constitutional amendment that would define a fetus as a person — thereby outlawing abortion and possibly birth control — even though he co-sponsored a similar initiative in Congress.

A campaign spokeswoman said McCollum did not see the 1988 congressional resolution as a contraception ban, but said he would not comment on the proposed amendment unless it makes the ballot.

Sink’s silence on Emily’s List donations contrasts with other Florida Democrats who have been backed by the group, such as Senate candidate Betty Castor in 2004 and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Kosmas of Orlando in 2008. Federal candidates have to report which donations came from Emily’s List members, while state candidates do not, according to the Center for Responsive Politics in Washington.

“We file a very thorough report every quarter, and the campaign has the support of Emily’s List members who believe in Alex Sink and her leadership,” said Sink’s campaign manager, Paul Dunn.

Emily’s List spokesman Matt Burgess did not respond to phone calls and e-mails. The group’s policy is not to disclose how much money it steers toward specific candidates.

Sink’s web site mentions endorsements from the Florida AFL-CIO and the Florida Education Association, but not from Emily’s List.

Sink has been outspoken about reforming the state’s pension board. She wants to expand the State Board of Administration to provide better oversight.

But at the Florida Democratic Party’s recent conference in Orlando, the hottest topic was healthcare reform. Activists shouted their support for a “public option” to compete with private insurers. Sink has declined to weigh in on a government-run plan, saying as a candidate for governor she is focused on potential Medicaid costs.

McCollum spokeswoman Shannon Gravitte framed Sink’s refusal to talk about Emily’s List donations as the candidate ducking another controversial issue.

“Here we go again,” she said. “It’s more of that pattern of silence on tough questions.”