Florida Democratic Party Pays Out to Reno Challenger

Tampa lawyer Bill McBride has gotten more than eight times as much help from the state Democratic Party than Janet Reno, his opponent in the gubernatorial primary, but party officials insist it has nothing to do with favoritism.

"Janet got what she asked for. We've encouraged her to take more," state Democratic Party Chairman Bob Poe said Friday. "Bill got what he asked for."

State Sen. Daryl Jones, who is running a distant third in the polls, has also gotten what he asked for, almost $162,000 in "in-kind" contributions from the party.

And while that surpasses Reno's acceptance of $95,000 from the party, it dwarfs the nearly $850,000 that McBride has received through the end of June.

The money mainly goes to campaign activities like staff salaries, consulting fees and polling costs, and McBride staff say they are not shy about asking for more. 

"We've asked for more," said campaign spokesman Alan Stonecipher.

Stonecipher said that it was a strategic decision to take the money. After all, Reno, who has exponentially more name recognition than the novice politician, is beating McBride by double-digits in the polls.

But McBride has the money advantage, having outraised Reno in the first three months of the year, and having more cash on hand. The money game could make the difference.

Indeed, the Reno campaign is paying almost all of its salaries from its own account.

"Janet believes that party funds should be spent on activities that directly benefit the party," said campaign spokeswoman Nicole Harburger.

But Reno has sought help paying for fund-raisers that also raised money for the party and conducting polls asking voters how they feel about Gov. Jeb Bush's record. And with recent fund-raisers like the "Janet Reno Dance Party," which included many celebrity guests, the former attorney general is banking on her connections to push her over the top.

But regardless of how they manage their cash, party Democrats say they will take whomever they can get into office.

"People look at this and they don't understand it and they draw conclusions that aren't correct," he said. "You don't hear the Janet Reno campaign complaining about it. ... If we were doing something that was favoring McBride, you'd hear them howl."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.