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Saturday, April 17, 2021

Florida's District 3 candidates: How much money have Democrats raised amid COVID-19?

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Instead of shaking hands with voters and speaking at events, Florida’s 3rd Congressional District candidates have had to adapt their campaigns to reach constituents online before the Aug. 18 election.

Social distancing measures have also made fundraising more challenging for congressional candidates. Democratic candidates from district 3, which includes the counties of Alachua, Clay, Putnam, Bradford, Union and parts of Marion County, shared details about their experiences and campaign contributions with The Alligator.

The amount of campaign contributions of each candidate mentioned in this report come from the Federal Election Commission, an independent agency that regulates election campaign finances in the country. This story reflects contributions reported through July 29. However, candidate Tom Wells’ contributions reflect reports through Aug 9.

The FEC reports disclose details of candidates’ itemized individual and corporate contributions, but does not give the number or any other details about unitemized individual contributions. “Itemized individual contributions” are donations that exceed $200, whereas “unitemized individual contributions” are those below $200.

Philip Dodds, 46, ran for Congress as an Independent in the 2012 general election. As of July 29, his campaign contributions total to $59,124.81.

Before the pandemic, Dodds said he was very active in all five and a half counties of the district. He said he enjoyed being able to do everything face to face, including shaking hands, smiling and meeting people.

Dodds’ campaign, he said, has been different since the pandemic hit because people should be trying to limit all exposure to the virus as much as possible.

The most effective way to get his name and issues out as well as connecting with people has been through social media, including Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and TikTok, Dodds said.

Dodds said he began accepting donations since he announced his campaign last year. He said the money has been used to pay for yard signs, social media advertising and T-shirts. He has not spent any money yet on television or radio ads, he added.

“All money has been individual donations,” Dodds said. “My pledge is to not take corporate PAC money even after being elected in office.”

According to the FEC, Dodds received $5,875 in itemized individual contributions. He also reported $7,685.84 in unitemized individual contributions.

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Dodds’ FEC report also reflects that out of his total campaign contributions, $43,000 come from a loan he made to his campaign in April 2020. And $2,538.97 comes from contributions Dodds has made himself since August 2019.

Candidate contributions are reported when the candidate uses personal funds for campaign purposes. Unlike personal loans, candidate contributions are not to be refunded to candidates.

Dodds’ endorsements include the Gainesville city commissioners Reina Saco, Harvey Ward and The African American Accountability Alliance.

Adam Christensen, 26, is the youngest candidate running for Florida’s 3rd Congressional District. His campaign contributions total to $31,240.74, as of July 29.

Christensen said he works with a team of 50 volunteers under the age of 26. When the pandemic began, he said they went almost entirely digital.

“We built an entire studio. We created live streams. We created town halls. We did everything we could,” he said.

He added that 20 to 30 more people are volunteering with phone and text banking, which are ways to reach out to potential voters via phone calls and text messages respectively.

Christensen said he did not start raising money until three months ago. He also said that they are not taking money from any corporations or lobbyists.

According to the FEC, Christensen received $3,000 in itemized individual contributions. The report also shows that he has lent money to his campaign on three occasions, adding up to $14,440 in total. $13,800.74 comes from unitemized individual contributions of which $9,478.61 was donated since June 30.

“We are running an entirely grassroots campaign,” he said.

Christensen’s endorsements include the Florida College Democrats, the student wing of the Democratic Party in Florida; Humanity Forward, a non-profit organization inspired by Andrew Yang’s 2020 Presidential Campaign; and two former presidential candidates, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang, among others.

Tom Wells, 69, is running for a seat in Congress for the third time since 2016. The first time, he ran as an Independent. As of August 9, Wells has $21,226.10 in campaign contributions.

Wells describes his campaign as morally conscious amid the pandemic. He stopped going door-to-door on March 12, he added.

Wells said he works with a team of about 107 people based in different parts of the state and across this whole country, which is possible because due to COVID-19, they are running a remote campaign. His campaign is using social media creatively and decided to postpone fundraising until March 17, he said.

According to the FEC, candidates must report donations bigger than $200 under individual contributions, and they can choose to report smaller donations in the same way if they wish to.

In Wells’ campaign contributions report, individual contributions total to $9,685.94 and 21 of them come from ActBlue, a fundraising platform available to Democratic candidates and committees since 2004. ActBlue contributions range from $4.80 to $679.06. Wells also lent $100 to his campaign in May 2019 and has contributed $10,525 himself since April 2019. $659.80 falls under unitemized individual contributions.

“There's a certain resistance to anybody who has run as NPA (with no party affiliation)” Wells said.

Wells’ endorsements include Albert Chester, candidate for the 5th Congressional District, and Alan Grayson, former Florida 9th congressional district representative, among others.

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