Knight’s PAC pulls in close to three times the funding Rainford’s PAC receives
With Realtor Greggory Wood of Venice having withdrawn from the Sarasota County Commission District 3 race, the August 2024 Republican Primary for that seat is shaping up as a contest between former Sheriff Tom Knight and Commissioner Neil Rainford — whom Gov. DeSantis appointed to the seat in June, after Commissioner Nancy Detert passed away.
As recent state election law changes have reduced campaign finance reporting to quarterly, until 2024 begins, both Knight and Rainford filed their first documents this month with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Rainford’s report shows that he raised $202,175 since his formal filing for the District 3 seat in early July, while Knight pulled in $102,110.
However, Knight’s political action committee (PAC), Knight Fights for South Sarasota County, had amassed $109,970.58 between July 15 and Sept. 30, the PAC’s quarterly report to the Florida Division of Elections shows.
In contrast, the Friends of Neil Rainford PAC brought in $40,000 from June 6 through Sept. 30, the Division of Elections records says.
Wood never raised any money for his District 3 bid, according to documents his campaign filed with the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.
Knight had spent $1,422.64 through September, his report also notes, while Rainford’s expenditures added up to $4,338.61.
In the District 1 commission race, business owner and former Sarasota County Planning Commission member Teresa Mast, also a Republican, added another $13,170 from 27 contributors from July through September, her records show, bringing her total to $207,970. Among those listed in the latest report who gave her the maximum amount of $1,000 were two PACS based in Venice — the Firefighters & Paramedics for Public Safety, and Friends of Sarasota — the documentation notes. A third PAC, Sarasota Manatee Defense Fund, also contributed $1,000.
Mast had spent $15,700 through the third quarter of this year, the latest report notes. The largest single figure in that list was $1,750, which went to Tampa firm Strategic Image Management — identified in the report as Simwins — for “website/email set up.” Another $1,500 went to that firm for “palm cards.”
Further, Mast paid the Thomson Group of Sarasota a total of $1,600 for communication services, and she reimbursed herself $1,042.18 for campaign expenses. The principal of that company is Rod Thomson.
Property manager Les Nichols, a Republican campaigning against Mast, added no contributions during the third quarter, his latest report says. He had raised only $5,550 through September, while he had spent $2,291.70.
Details of Knight’s contributions
A news release that Knight’s campaign sent out last week notes that he had received more than 250 individual contributions from people and businesses, with nearly 90% coming from Sarasota County and 44% “coming specifically from South Sarasota County.”
Knight has been a Venice resident since 1973, while Rainford was living in the eastern part of the county — in District 1 — when DeSantis appointed him to the County Commission. In August, Sarasota County Property Appraiser Office records show, Rainford and his bought a home in Nokomis.
District 3 includes Venice and parts of Nokomis and North Port.
The Knight campaign press release pointed out that his contributions began at $5 “from people who are retired and working in every occupation, from law enforcement to dentistry.”
Knight’s report to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office listed 234 contributions, ranging up to the $1,000 maximum.
“My campaign report shows that people in our community remember my 12 years as Sheriff and the fact that I ran the Sheriff’s Office with integrity and fiscal discipline,” Knight said in the release. “Now, I’m focused on bringing those same core conservative values to our County Commission.”
He also pointed out, “One thing I hear consistently from voters in my district is that they are tired of the status quo on the county commission and they’re ready for someone who will not only listen to them but actually take action.”
By count of the News Leader, 105 of Knight’s 234 contributions in the third quarter report came from persons or companies in Venice and Nokomis.
The report shows few examples of “bundling” — contributions from a variety of entities and individuals associated with one company or individual.
Among those the News Leader did identify in the documentation were the following:
- $10,000 from companies associated with, and members of the family of, Hugh Culverhouse Jr., developer of Palmer Ranch in Sarasota.
- $8,000 from Siesta Key business owner Chris Brown, through various companies. Brown owns the Hub Baja Grill, the Summer House Restaurant and the Beach Club in Siesta Village.
- $3,000 from Ajax Paving and the owners of that company.
Among individuals who contributed to Knight were state Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota ($100), former County Commissioners Joe Barbetta ($200) and Shannon Staub ($100), plus Barbetta’s wife, Mary Kenealy-Barbetta ($200); County Property Appraiser Bill Furst ( $200); and Sarasota attorney John Patterson, husband of former Commissioner Nora Patterson ($1,000).
Teri Hansen, president and CEO of the Barancik Foundation, gave the campaign $250; former, three-term Venice Mayor John Holic contributed $500; David Verinder Jr., CEO of the Sarasota Memorial Health Care System gave Knight $500; and Crystal Bailey, former general counsel of the Sheriff’s Office, contributed $500.
Among contributors of $1,000 were PGT, which is based in Nokomis; hotel owner Henry Rodriguez of Sarasota; the J.E. Charlotte Construction Co. in Venice; the Carlton Mabry Ranch; Aqua Shower Doors of Sarasota; Aqua Plumbing and Air Services of Sarasota; Venice Electric; and Venice attorney Stephen K. Boone. A property management firm associated with Boone’s law firm — Colonial House — added $1,000.
Knight’s largest single expense in his report was a $428.80 reimbursement to himself for “printing and parking.”
Details of Rainford’s contributions
Over the past couple of months, Rainford has noted during commission meetings that he has been meeting with his District 3 constituents on a variety of issues.
Rainford’s Third Quarter report lists 242 contributions. Unlike Knight’s, though, approximately 75% of Rainford’s contributions — 182 — were at the $1,000 mark. A number of them came in the form of “bundles” from developers, The Sarasota News Leader found.
Among those are the following examples:
- $15,000 from companies associated with Benderson Development Co., which has already had a couple of public hearings in front of the commission since Rainford joined the board.
- $12,000 from entities associated with Neal Communities and three members of the Neal family.
- $10,000 from five limited liability corporations with the Delray Beach address that belongs to Pugliese Creative Ventures. On its website, that company says it “is a privately-held real estate management acquisition, sales and development company … directed by its president and business visionary, Laura K Pugliese.”
- $10,000 from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, the developer of Lakewood Ranch, and associated companies.
- $10,000 from developer Carlos Beruff of Medallion Homes and associated companies.
- $6,000 from Ajax Paving Industries of Florida in North Venice and associated entities, including the company CEO Michael Horan and his wife, Carol.
- $5,000 from companies and individuals associated with the Icard Merrill law firm in Sarasota gave Rainford, including attorney William Merrill III and his wife, Karen.
- $5,000 from companies associated with the Barrington Group, a property management firm in Sarasota whose president is Larry Lieberman.
- $5,000 from companies associated with developer Eldon Johnson Jr. of Sarasota.
- $5,000 from Genesis Planning and Development in Bradenton; its principal, Robert “Bo” Medred; and associated companies. That firm often represents developers during public hearings before the County Commission. One of its clients has been Gary Kompothecras, the Siesta Key businessman and chiropractor who has planned a high-rise hotel on Old Stickney Point Road.
- $4,000 from luxury home developer Lee Wetherington and associated companies.
- $3,000 from entities associated with the owners of the land that has become home to Wellen Park in South County.
Two PACs based in Venice — Friends of Sarasota and Firefighters & Paramedics for Public Safety — gave Rainford $1,000 apiece.
Additionally, Sheriff Kurt Hoffman ($500); Karen Rushing, clerk of the Circuit Court and county comptroller ($100); past County Commissioner Paul Caragiulo ($500); current Commissioners Michael Moran ($500) and Joe Neunder ($200), plus Moran’s wife, Lori ($500) contributed to Rainford’s campaign.
The two PACs based in Venice, the entities and individuals associated with Ajax Paving, the Wellen Park companies, and Venice Toyota were the only contributors to Rainford listed with a Venice or Nokomis address that the News Leader found in its review of Rainford’s documentation.
As for expenditures: Rainford’s largest total expense — $1,600 — was divided into two payments to the Thomson Group of Sarasota for communication services.
Rainford also paid $800 to the Robinson, Gruters & Roberts CPA firm in Venice for accounting services.