The candidates for the District 2 seat on the Sarasota County School Board raised a combined $13,200 in the last full week of fundraising before the Aug. 30 election, and spent more than $33,200 in pursuit of the position.
More than one-third of the latest campaign contribution totals came from companies associated with homebuilder and U.S. Senate candidate Carlos Beruff, who gave $5,000 to candidate Teresa Mast using a variety of LLCs. Mast also received $200 each from county commissioners Alan Maio and Paul Caragiulo, and has spent more than $25,000 in the last 10 days on mailers, consulting and website management.
Still, incumbent school board member Caroline Zucker received $5,700 from Aug. 13, to Aug. 25. She collected more than 45 individual contributions, including $200 from the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange, a non-profit trade organization representing the local construction industry, and $1,000 from Lakewood Ranch-based pharmaceutical company Camphor Technologies.
As it stands, the two school board candidates have raised a combined $106,000, which is more than the amount raised by current School Board member Bridget Ziegler and her 2014 challenger Ken Marsh.
Future Generations Inc., a political action committee that has financed attacks against Mast, reported $4,875 in contributions last week, with $4,000 coming from Ina Schnell. Sarasota resident Frank Brunckhorst, another major Democratic donor, contributed $50,000 to the PAC in June.
Sarasota Citizens for Our Schools, which has criticized Zucker in advertisements, reported a sole $5,000 contribution from firms associated with Palmer Ranch developer Hugh Culverhouse.
Parties stake their claim
The amount of campaign contributions is not the only quirk in the local non-partisan race: Sarasota GOP activists, such as Christian Ziegler, and the Democratic Party of Sarasota have also picked sides in the primary election that features two registered Republicans.
Ziegler has pushed GOP voters to consider Mast in the race after “reading that a ‘Progressive PAC’ fueled by anonymous liberal donors is backing Caroline Zucker’s School Board campaign, hearing that the Sarasota County Democratic Party has endorsed Caroline Zucker and reading an email chain making it clear that the Union is working for Caroline Zucker,” he wrote in an Aug. 18 email. Further, he discovered that Democratc Party workers were handing out sample ballots with Zucker’s name bubbled in.
Democratic Party Chairwoman Christine Jennings said after hearing about the latter issue, she encourage supporters not to mark the ballots and rather verbally endorse Zucker to potential voters.
“I prefer them not to mark it on a ballot,” Jennings said. “But, really, it’s the same thing whether you mark on the sample ballot or tell them.”
Sarasota GOP Chairman Joe Gruters has not picked a side in the school board race, but said he would be reviewing party and committee rules to potentially do so if such a divide opens up in future races.
“Here’s the deal: At the end of the day, Caroline Zucker is doing what she has to do to win, and yes, it’s a tough spot when the party looks at it,” Gruters said. “We try to be fair, but when one side looks like they have support from the Democrats, the question is should we engage, and we’re certainly going to look at our internal regulations.”