Politics & Government

AG Pam Bondi cruising to Nov. 4 re-election

From her unwavering defense of Florida’s ban on gay marriage to her outspoken opposition to the Affordable Health Care Act, Attorney General Pam Bondi is known for setting off critics.

Throw in last year’s postponement of an execution so she could host a fundraiser, and an election upset of Bondi seemed possible to some.

But no incumbent Florida attorney general has lost re-election in 50 years, and it looks like Bondi will continue the streak.

She has raised $5.2 million so far, seven times more than George Sheldon, her Democratic opponent in the Nov. 4 election. Libertarian nominee Bill Wohlsifer has raised even less.

Not by chance have Bondi’s first two TV ads focused strictly on her efforts to combat illicit drugs and human trafficking. With 18 years experience as a state prosecutor, Bondi is most comfortable when talking about law enforcement.

“I can only focus on doing what’s right,” said Bondi, 48. “In my mind, that starts with protecting our state — against drug dealers, against people raping our kids, against human trafficking, all of those issues.”

In state politics, only the governor has more power than the attorney general. It’s a position with a $128,000 salary that oversees the largest law firm in the state, 475 attorneys and more than 700 investigators and other staff members who can prosecute consumer fraud, white-collar crimes, public corruption and more.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand what effect the attorney general has on their lives,” said Christopher McCarty, director of the UF Survey Research Center and director of the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research.

The sheer scope of the office leaves much room for interpretation in defining what exactly the attorney general does. When Democrat Bob Butterworth served as attorney general from 1986 to 2002, he made prosecuting corporate fraud one of his top priorities.

Bondi makes law and order her top priority. If she sees street crime in black and white, she views corporate misconduct in shades of gray.

To compete in a TV state like Florida, Sheldon needs more money to combat Bondi’s messages. Sheldon says he will wait until closer to the election. But with less than three weeks to go, time is running out.

“When people see him and interact with him, they like him,” said David Colburn, director of the Bob Graham Center for Public Service. “But I don’t think he’s getting big crowds, which is a big limitation.”

Sheldon, 67, a former deputy attorney general who ran and lost the Democratic primary for attorney general in 2002, charges that Bondi protects the interests of Corporate America at the expense of the middle class.

He campaigned for weeks repeating that Bondi hadn’t intervened in any electric utility case. Earlier this month, for the first time, Bondi did, urging Duke Energy to refund customers $54 million for the costs of a nuclear plant that was never built.

“The attorney general ought to be focused on consumer protection, ought to be focused on really trying to hold down our utility rates,” said Sheldon, who lives in Tallahassee.

He made those comments last month when he announced the formation of a bipartisan committee, Democrats and moderate Republicans, that would raise money for his campaign. Yet through Oct. 10, the committee hasn’t raised a dime for Sheldon.

Without money to get his message out, voters won’t hear him. Sheldon has yet to air a TV ad, while Bondi has aired two with money for more.