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$135K for anti-Munroe tax group comes from pro-biz sources

Ocala, FL - November 2, 2012

Published on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 1:05 p.m.

Munroe Regional Medical Center is shown in this March 1, 2012

The Tallahassee group mounting a campaign against the hospital tax collected and spent $135,000 or so between Oct. 13 and Thursday, newly released records show.

About $45,000 came from Associated Industries of Florida, the powerhouse business group. AIF organized the anti-hospital tax organization, which is called Save Our Constitution Now.

The rest of the money, $90,000, came from Voice of Florida Business, which in state election parlance is considered an “electioneering communication organization.”

It, like Save our Constitution Now, is organized by AIF and chaired by Tom Feeney.

Voice of Florida Business has collected about $150,000 during this calendar year — $90,000 of which was donated between Oct. 13 and Thursday, state records showed.

Most of that $150,000 total ($136,000 or so) came from Associated Industries or its political action committee.

Chipping in $10,000 was the Florida Federation for Children, a group that advocates school choice. It is an electioneering communications organization based in Lutz.

The $10,000 is just a fraction of the $2.3 million the federation has raised this year.

As for expenditures: Save Our Constitution Now spent nearly $135,000 between Oct. 13 and Thursday.

That includes $56,000 in “media expenses” from McLaughlin & Associates, a New York company that the Washington Times newspaper calls “one of the best Republican polling firms.”

The rest went to Public Concepts LLC for direct mail. The political consulting company has a Florida office in West Palm Beach.

A report of all money raised or spent on or after Friday is due Jan. 10.

Save Our Constitution Now, which was formed in early October, has been running radio ads and making robo calls beseeching voters to reject the 1-mill property tax, which would support Munroe Regional Medical Center.

Among other things, this anti-tax campaign has implored people to “vote against waste” and has mocked Munroe leaders for approving $5 million in employee pay increases during austere times.

The radio ads have suggested that even if voters approve the tax, proceeds of which would support a bond issue, Munroe still could be leased or sold to a for-profit company that would then get the money.

Stan Hanson, head of the pro-tax group Protect Hometown Healthcare, has rebutted that claim and accused the anti-tax group of spreading lies.

Hanson’s group, whose latest expense report wasn’t available on the state Division of Elections website as of 1 p.m. Friday, collected more than $230,000 through Oct. 12. Much of the money was spent on direct mail and postage.

That group’s donor list includes many local doctors and medical practices, as well as a $30,000 contribution from Signature Brands, state records showed.

Munroe is a public hospital owned by the Marion County Hospital District. It is overseen by seven trustees who are appointed by the County Commission.

The tax would raise about $65 million. Proponents say the money would help support some of Munroe’s capital needs, pay off some debt, and provide leaders time as the economy rebounds.

A tax defeat could lead to the trustees leasing the hospital to an outside group. The trustees are considering proposals from two such companies interested in the 421-bed hospital.

The current lease is held by Munroe Regional Health System, Inc., which is overseen by a 13-member board, some of whose members also are district trustees.

Jim Ross can be reached at 671-6412 or Follow him on Twitter @jimross96.