Knight, Rainford remain close in total contributions in Republican race for District 3 County Commission seat

Cutsinger raises $81,000 through end of 2023 for District 5 campaign

Tom Knight. Image courtesy of his County Commission campaign

Sarasota County Commissioner Neil Rainford remains well ahead of his District 3 Republican Primary opponent, retired three-term Sheriff Tom Knight, in campaign contributions for the fourth quarter of 2023, as shown in the latest filings with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

However, Knight did take in more than twice the amount that contributors gave to Rainford during the fourth quarter, the documents note, and Knight had received 54% more in political action committee (PAC) contributions through the end of 2023, compared to the amount that Rainford’s PAC reported, according to documents filed with the Florida Division of Elections.

Knight added $20,000 in PAC money during the fourth quarter, while Rainford’s PAC collected another $43,500, the documents say.

The Knight PAC had received $128,800 through December 2023, while the Friends of Neil Rainford PAC had $83,500, the state documents show.

Additionally, through December, the Rainford PAC had spent $2,230.61, that document notes, while the Knight Fights for South Sarasota County PAC had spent $16,528.04.

Altogether, between his regular contributions and PAC funds, Knight has received a total of $252,615, while Rainford’s total through Dec. 31, 2023 was $296,505, the documents show.

Republican Teresa Mast of Sarasota, who remained the sole candidate for the District 1 seat as of midday on Jan. 25, added $18,725.92 to her campaign funds, as noted in her fourth quarter filing with the Supervisor of Elections Office. That brought her to a total of $226,695.92. She had spent only $24,598.60 through December.

Commissioner Michael Moran, who won the District 1 seat in 2016, is term-limited.

Teresa Mast. Image from her campaign website

Mast is president of a general contracting company and a former member of the Sarasota County Planning Commission, which has been a figurative stepping stone for people interested in serving as county commissioners.

Finally, District 5 incumbent Ron Cutsinger of Englewood had raised $81,090.92 through the fourth quarter of 2023. His first set of contributions since he filed for re-election in August 2023 added up to $35,800, with another $45,290.92 coming in the period between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31, 2023. Cutsinger had spent $12,108.25 as of the end of 2023, the latest report shows.

As of midday on Jan. 25, Commissioner Cutsinger also had no competition for the District 5 seat, the Supervisor of Elections Office records noted.

Details of the latest finance reports in the District 3 race

Knight’s report for the fourth quarter of 2023 lists 57 contributions, ranging from $5 to the $1,000 maximum. Thirteen of them came from residents or businesses in Venice, which makes up most of District 3.

He did receive a total of $5,000 in bundled contributions from Fred M. Starling, who has a Sarasota real estate firm — the Starling Group — plus four entities for whom Starling is the principal, as noted in the records of the Florida Division of Corporations: Ridgelake Meti LLC, Star Asset Managers LLC, Lakeridge Investment Corp., and Cattleridge Financial LLC.

Other $1,000 contributions came from Fonda Herrick, a Clearwater accountant; Steven Herrick, a private investigator in Clearwater; Longboat Key retiree Andrew Sherwin; Sarasota Kennel Club Inc.; Matthew Mercier, who has an insurance firm in Bradenton; and Keith Mercier of Sarasota, president of Florida West Coast division of the nationally based CBIZ company, which handles insurance and accounting and tax services.

Knight also received several contributions at the $500 level. Those came from the Holliday Group construction firm in Sarasota; the Bentley Goodrich Kison law firm in Sarasota; Venice retiree Lynne Doyle; Sarasota philanthropist Thomas Koski; former County Commissioner Jon Thaxton, who is a senior vice president of the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, based in Venice; Roland Caldwell Jr. of Venice, president and CEO of the Caldwell Trust Co.; Floral City retiree Douglas G. Yates; Sutter roofing Co. of Florida, based in Sarasota; and Patrick Wright of Sarasota, who also is the insurance business.

The Jon F. Swift Construction Co. of Sarasota gave Knight $400, and former Venice City Councilwoman Jeannette Gates contributed $250.

Among Knight’s expenditures for the quarter, the largest went to three organizations: PAC Financial Management in Tallahassee for treasurer services ($2,695.32); Data Targeting Inc. in Tallahassee for advertising ($2,570); and KD Logistics Inc. of Sarasota for campaign consulting ($2,250).

Of the 21 contributions that Rainford reported for the fourth quarter, six were from individuals in Venice.

Further, he had nine contributions at the $1,000 level. The lowest amount anyone gave him was $10.

This is the latest state report on the funds raised by the Friends of Neil Rainford PAC. Image from the Florida Division of Elections

A $2,000 bundle came from 1260 Palm Properties LLC, whose principal is Matthew Kihnke of Sarasota, the developer of the controversial Obsidian condominium complex at 1260 Palm Ave. in downtown Sarasota; and Collection Development Corp., for which Kihnke also is the registered agent, according to the Florida Division of Corporations.

Further, Adam Maio, a member of the county Planning Commission whose father is former County Commissioner Alan Maio, and three companies associated with Adam Maio contributed a total of $1,000 to Rainford in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Commissioner Neil Rainford. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The rest of the $1,000 contributions were provided by the E.T. MacKenzie of Florida construction company in Bradenton; the Floridians United for a Sustainable Economy, a PAC in Tallahassee whose registered agent is well-known lobbyist/attorney David Ramba; Ashley Bloom of Sarasota, managing partner of SVN Commercial Partners; Ranch C-Store LLC, a convenience store company based in Sarasota whose manager is Siesta Key businessman and developer Gary Kompothecras; Mark Kara, president of American Towing & Transport in Seffner; custom builder Richard Eason of Holmes Beach; and Sunset Beachfront Resort LLC of Lakewood Ranch, which is associated with Casto Southeast Realty Services LLC.

As for Rainford’s expenses: The document shows three $800 payments to The Thomson Group, whose principal is long-time journalist and consultant Rod Thompson of Sarasota, for communication services; and three $400 payments to the Robinson Gruters & Roberts CPA firm in Venice. The Robinson in that firm is Eric Robinson, former chair of the Republican Party of Sarasota and former Sarasota County School Board member. The Gruters is Republican state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota.

Cutsinger’s fourth quarter report

Cutsinger listed 85 contributions in the fourth quarter, with 33 at the $1,00 level.

Among those were the following bundles:

  • $4,000 from attorney William Merrill III of the Icard Merrill firm in Sarasota, who often represents development companies in land-use applications that the County Commission hears, in the form of a personal contribution plus $1,000 from Merrill’s wife, Karen; and $1,000 apiece from BM2 LLC, MBR LLC, BMG Three LLC, for which Merrill is the manager, as shown in Florida Division of Corporations records.
  • $4,000 from Terrell C. Wolfram and associated firms in Cary, N.C. — TC Six LLC, New Pope Holdco III LLC, and Rolling Green Holdco LLC. Wolfram is managing director of the Anka Funds, an investment firm headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., the company’s website says.
  • $3,000 from developer Eldon Johnson of Sarasota through Gracewater Community Development, Gracewater Midtown LLC and Privada Homes LLC of Sarasota.
  • $3,000 from John Cannon, whose eponymous homebuilding firm is located in Lakewood Ranch, Phillipa Cannon, and John Cannon Homes itself.
  • $2,000 from Robert “Bo” Medred of Genesis Planning and Development in Bradenton, who often serves as an agent for developers, and the revocable living trust of Medred’s wife, Gina.
  • $2,000 from Halfacre Construction of Lakewood Ranch and its president, John Cox III.

Cutsinger also received $1,000 apiece from Michael Armstrong, who has a landscaping firm in Palmetto; William Conerly, vice president of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm in Sarasota; David Sessions, chair of the Willis Smith Construction firm in Sarasota; Frank John Lacivita, president and CEO of Willis Smith Construction; the E.T. MacKenzie of Florida Inc. construction firm;. The Sarasota/Manatee Defense Fund PAC, whose chair is Siesta Key business owner Michael Holderness; Mabry Carlton Ranch of Sidell; the Grimes Galvano law firm in Bradenton, whose attorneys have represented Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, in appearances before the County Commission; Fleet Capital Group Inc. of Sarasota; Lee Wetherington Homes LLC; Impact Landscaping & Irrigation of Sarasota, whose owner is Joe Floyd; Icard Merrill attorney Matthew Brockway; Lon Deckard, president of Quadrel Inc. in Osprey, which specializes in Industrial Equipment Services, according to Dun & Bradstreet; and retiree David Green of Sarasota, who formerly was McDonald’s global marketing officer.

Commissioner Ron Cutsinger. Image courtesy Sarasota County

In regard to expenses, by a wide margin, the largest single amount that Cutsinger recorded in the fourth-quarter report was $4,712.85, which was paid to Public Concepts LLC in Jupiter for fundraising, campaign consulting and website services, as noted on the form. Two other payments to the same firm totaled $3,500, the document said. points out that the company has a second location in West Palm Beach. “This organization primarily operates in the Lobbyist business/industry within the Engineering, Accounting, Research, and Management Services sector. This organization has been operating for approximately 33 years,” adds.

Litigation dating to 2007 that involved Public Concepts LLC and Florida’s Elections Commission, about which The Sarasota News Leader learned through an online search, explains that the firm “is a business that assists candidates for public office with their campaigns.”

Like Knight, Cutsinger is using PAC Financial Management in Tallahassee for treasurer services. Cutsinger paid $2,120 to that firm in the fourth quarter.

Additionally,  Cutsinger paid $800 to The Thomson Group for communications consulting.