Competing candidates relying on big money donors
A lot of old friends have chipped in to help Ray Sansom in his bid for Okaloosa County School Superintendent.
But a couple of former Sansom allies have spent heavily in support of his opponent, current Superintendent Marcus Chambers.
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To date Sansom has raised $93,229 and Chambers, who only pre-filed to run in October, $53,400.
LIST: People who have contributed to local campaigns
Developer Jay Odom is the single largest contributor to the Sansom campaign, having chipped in $9,000 as both an individual and through his business interests.
Sterling Diversified LLC, a company that Odom was listed as a managing partner in until 2013, also contributed $1,000 to Sansom’s campaign. That business is now listed as being run by long-time Odom business partners Tim Edwards and Chester Kroeger. Kroeger has also contributed another $1,000 through another business interest.
The family of Congressman Matt Gaetz, meanwhile, has weighed in on the side of Chambers. Gaetz has contributed $1,000 personally and another $1,000 through the Friends of Matt Gaetz political action committee.
Don Gaetz, who served in the state Senate for some of the time Sansom was in the House, has also personally contributed $1,000 to the Chambers campaign. Three more $1,000 contributions have been made to the Chambers’ campaign by corporations headed by Don Gaetz.
"I believe Marcus Chambers will do the best job going forward to restore the confidence and integrity of the Okaloosa County School District," Don Gaetz said.
The total Gaetz family contributions come to $6,000.
Odom’s contributions to Sansom are noteworthy not only for the amount, but also because of the past relationship between the two men.
Odom and Sansom stood trial together in 2011 after being charged with grand theft and conspiracy to commit grand theft.
Willie Meggs, Leon County’s state attorney at the time, tried unsuccessfully to prosecute the two for what he alleged was Sansom’s effort as Speaker Designate of the Florida House to appropriate school funding dollars so that Odom could build a hangar at his business on what was then the Destin Airport.
Bob Richburg, who as the president of Northwest Florida State College was charged with theft and conspiracy alongside Odom and Sansom, has also contributed $500 to the Sansom campaign.
Chambers did not respond to a question about the Sansom donations.
Sansom also declined comment on the Gaetz’s involvement in the Chambers’ campaign.
He said he had no worries that Odom’s support of his campaign would be perceived negatively by voters.
"We proved our innocence, our honesty, through the trial. My legal fees were reimbursed. It was a complete vindication," he said. "Everything we did was right, so no, not at all."
Matt and Don Gaetz have been strong supporters of Chambers since he took over as acting superintendent when his predecessor, Mary Beth Jackson, was suspended from office.
"The fact they have supported me is humbling and I am honored that they believe in me," Chambers said in a statement.
But before Sansom won election to the state House, and for some time afterward, he and Don Gaetz were political allies. Gaetz, a newly elected superintendent in 2001, gave Sansom, who had lost a close race for the state House the year before, a job within the school district.
When Sansom was elected to the Legislature in 2002, Matt Gaetz served for a time on his staff while attending Florida State University.
Matt Gaetz ran for and won the state House seat that a beleaguered Sansom relinquished in February 2010.
Odom and Richburg are not the only names from Sansom’s political past that appear among the contributors to his latest campaign for office. Larry Cretul, who succeeded Sansom when he stepped down as Speaker in February of 2009, has chipped in $1,000. So has Dean Cannon, who followed Cretul into the speaker’s seat.
Former state House Majority Leader Rep. Adam Hasner and a consulting firm run by former state Rep. Marti Coley have also contributed to the Sansom campaign.
Steve Dobson, the lawyer who successfully defended Sansom against the charges filed by Meggs, has also given money to the Sansom campaign. Dort Baltis, who spoke to the media on Sansom’s behalf during the time he was under investigation, has also contributed $1,000.
The Let’s Work Together political action committee, which lists Okaloosa County state Rep Mel Ponder as its "associated legislator," has contributed to Sansom’s campaign.
Sansom has returned campaign contributions he received from George Levesque and Ty Jackson, the attorneys who represented Mary Beth Jackson in her battle to be reinstated following her suspension by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Levesque had contributed $250 and Jackson, the former superintendent’s stepson, $1,000.
"The Ms. Jackson battle is not my battle to fight," Sansom said. "While I was grateful for their donations, I returned them. That is not my battle to fight."
Chambers’ campaign hasn’t pulled in the kind of support from across the state that Sansom’s has, but his local support is strong. Numerous school administrators have contributed funds, as have Okaloosa County Sheriff Larry Ashley, County Commissioner Trey Goodwin and former School Board member Melissa Thrush.
Chambers has also received financial help from long-time Gaetz supporters Lewis Bear and Collier Merrill.
While both the Sansom and Chambers campaigns have accumulated significant financial resources since the beginning of the year, the two are well behind some other local and state office seekers in the fund raising game.
Jeff Hinkle, who is running to replace Ponder as the District 4 state representative, has loaned his campaign $500,000.
Hinkle, the current president of the Okaloosa County Republican Executive Committee, faces three Republican opponents in the race. None have reported raising significant funds to this point.
Eric Aden, a major for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office who is running to replace the retiring Ashley, has raised $134,755 as of the November reporting period. He’s accumulated the war chest despite the fact no one has stepped in to challenge him for the job.
County Commissioner Graham Fountain has also cracked $100,000 in political contributions. He’s received $118,600. Fountain is seeking re-election to the District 1 county commission seat and is opposed by James Walker, who has not yet crossed the $1,000 contribution threshold.
Nathan Boyles, the county commission incumbent in Okaloosa’s District 3, has raised $53,700 as he seeks a third term in office. His opponent, Clyde Lewis, has raised just under $3,000.
In Commission District 5, Ponder has raised $82,801, much of it from state political action committee contributions, but opponent Parker Destin, a Destin city councilman, has raised $63,030 to challenge him. Richard Scott Johnson has raised $21,600. Candidate Wes Fell has raised approximately $8,000
All candidates running for Okaloosa County seats are registered as Republicans.