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A Closer Look at Van Ostenbridge's "Record Breaking" Fundraising


BRADENTON — Manatee County’s District 3 Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge is reporting record-breaking campaign contributions after having just filed for reelection on June 1. A financial report for the month of June showed that the incumbent had already collected a whopping $170,000 toward his reelection effort. 

The report, which is publicly available on the Manatee County Supervisor of Election website, showed that each of the 170 donations made to the Van Ostenbridge Campaign in June was made at the allowable maximum of $1,000. 

While impressive, the contributions may not be reflective of the commissioner’s popularity among his district's voters. Of the 170 separate donations received, little more than two dozen came from a unique mailing address that was not associated with another donation under a different name. Among the mailing addresses that appeared on the report as only having donated once, less than half of those were received from an address within District 3's boundaries. 

Many of the cluster contributions—separate $1,000 maximum donations sharing the same address but different business names—are from established local developers. TBT was able to identify at least 10 such contributions from Medallion Homes developer Carlos Beruff and a minimum of 10 from Benderson Development. Neal Land & Neighborhoods had roughly twenty separate donations with matching addresses, and SMR Lakewood Ranch had at least another ten in the mix as well. 

Other notable individuals and businesses who contributed to Van Ostenbridge's campaign include the President of NDC Construction Company Ronald Allen, construction company Woodruff & Sons, Conley Buick, and one $1,000 donation from Manatee Memorial Hospital. 

Multiple agriculture businesses and/or large-scale agriculturally-zoned landholders also appeared as having steadily given to Van Ostenbridge’s reelection effort. Some of the donations from ag/landowners were received from individual residential addresses, but many were accompanied by matching $1,000 from multiple family members, or by affiliated LLCs or P.O. boxes of the agriculture-related entity. 

Jones Potato Farm gave at least three separate $1,000 maximum donations, each sharing the same P.O. Box address, but carrying a different business name. West Coast Tomato as a business gave at least $2,000 and Robert Spencer—owner of West Coast Tomato—and his wife each gave individual maximum $1,000 contributions totaling another $2,000. 

Myakka City’s Falkner Farms also gave generously to the commissioner’s campaign. TBT was able to identify at least fifteen maximum donations of $1,000 each from Falkner-affiliated LLCs and/or individuals bearing the Falkner name. 

Van Ostenbridge also received $7,000 combined from seven different political action committees (PACS)—though, five of the PACs shared the same physical address and registered agent. 

As the graph above displays, when broken down by contributor type, 70 percent of Van Ostenbridge’s donations were gotten from business identities—of that percentage, numerous of those donations shared the same address. The percentage of donations made by individuals was just shy of 26 percent, and several of those individuals were associated with business identities that also donated. 

Of the 44 donations listed as having come from an individual, half were contributions received from two separate individuals who share the same mailing address.

In addition, many of the contributions came from outside of the commissioner’s own district, some came from other Florida counties, and some from other states entirely. Out-of-state contributions included four donations from Texas, three from Massachusetts, and one each from Virginia and Washington D.C. 

Individuals and businesses with mailing addresses inside of Van Ostenbridge’s District 3 accounted for only 11.4 percent of the 170 total donations the commissioner received in June. Manatee County’s District 4 was the largest in-county source of contributions, with just over 23 percent of the funds coming from individuals or businesses with addresses located in the district. 

But contributors with mailing addresses outside of Manatee County, by far, take the largest piece of the donating pie when compared to donations originating from any one of the county's districts. Just over 31 percent of the campaign funds came from individuals or businesses elsewhere in the state. Many are from nearby Sarasota County, but more than two dozen others were from Hillsborough, Pasco, and Leon counties. 

If one combs through the contributions line by line, one thing seems clear, a significant chunk of the early support enjoyed by Van Ostenbridge is thanks to businesses and individuals with connections to the building industry. 

For the above graphic, individual and business donors were grouped according to relative industry or occupation. Forty-Four percent of the contributors were in some way connected to development, building, or construction. Many of the larger local developers whose businesses contributed multiple separate $1,000 dollar kick-ins assigned varying "business types" to their different LLCs, despite them all sharing a mailing address. 

For example, SMR Lakewood Ranch gave $1,000 at least ten separate times, each coming from different business names which shared identical addresses. Each of the donations was assigned varying "types of business" on the campaign finance report, including, real estate, agriculture, development, utilities, and/or golf. In this instance and in similar instances, TBT counted all of these cluster donations within the "Building Industry" category on the above graph displaying Contributions by Industry/Occupation. 

The PACs 

PAC is short for "political action committee," or "political committee." PACs are organized and registered for the purpose of raising and spending money in elections, both for and against causes or candidates. Most PACs represent business, labor, or ideological interests.

Of the seven PACs that contributed to Van Ostenbridge’s campaign, one of the contributions came from a PAC which shared a mailing address with the Tampa-based political consulting firm, Strategic Image Management (SIMWINs). The consulting firm is headed by political consultant Anthony Pedicini who each of Manatee County’s current commissioners are past or current clients. 

The PAC, entitled "Investing in Florida’s Future Now," was newly created in 2023. It reports only one contribution so far in 2023, a lump sum of $25,000 contributed on May 15. The PAC's only reported expenditure so far in 2023, is the $1,000 to Van Ostenbridge’s campaign on June 27. 

The "Keep Florida Moving Forward" PAC is another contributor to Van Ostenbridge. According to filings, the PAC is based in Tallahassee and has been active since 2019. Expenditure reports show the PAC contributed $1,000 to the commissioner's campaign on June 29. 

The registered agent of the Keep Florida Moving Forward is Emmett Mitchell and the reported chairperson and treasurer of the PAC is William Jones. Known for creating dozens of political action committees that have spent millions during elections, William "Stafford" Jones has gained notoriety as a controversial political operative. 

Jones was one of several individuals who were implicated in the 2012 redistricting scandal involving allegations that Florida GOP officials coordinated with Republican political consultants to draw redistricting lines unfairly in favor of Republicans. 

The five additional PACs which contributed to Van Ostenbridge’s campaign each gave $1,000—for a total of five grand. The five PACs are all registered with the same mailing address, 120 South Monroe Street, Tallahassee, Florida. 

The registered agent listed on each PAC filing is the same, lobbyist David Ramba. 

Ramba, and his firm Ramba Consulting, is one of the federal lobbyists to the Manatee Port Authority. The county’s port authority is led by the county commissioners. 

Curiously, when Googling the address associated with the five PACs— Citizens for Principled LeadershipVoters for Economic GrowthFocused on Florida’s FutureFighting for Florida’s Future, and The Committee for Justice Transportation, and Business—search results include more than one LLC on SunBiz registered to Manatee’s former county administrator, Scott Hopes. 

Hopes has two active LLCs, HMD HealthCare Corp and HealthCare Management Decisions INC, and two inactive LLCs which share the address of 120 South Monroe Street, Tallahassee. Hopes has multiple other LLCs registered with SunBiz with various other addresses. 

Three of Ramba’s PACs gave contributions to Van Ostenbridge’s campaign on June 26, while the other two contributed on June 28. 

A Hefty Head Start 

It may be too soon to know whether the significant backing Van Ostenbridge is receiving in his bid for reelection is sure to shuttle him across the finish line in 2024. The commissioner has had a somewhat embroiled first term. 

The current commission chairman received backlash in 2020 having barely begun his new role as the District 3 commissioner when he called an emergency meeting he claimed was about potential government shutdowns, but then used the meeting to make a move to oust the then-county administrator, Cheri Coryea. 

Later into his short tenure, Van Ostenbridge championed the hiring of school board member Scott Hopes to replace Coryea, a decision that began with controversy and ended with the same. Hopes was widely criticized by the public, county employees, and even some commissioners for his lack of transparency and communication as the organization’s leader. 

In May 2022, when the county’s clerk and comptroller attempted to warn commissioners about concerns her office was aware of involving Hopes and his administration, Van Ostenbridge came to Hopes' defense and issued a rebuttal letter attacking the clerk

But the county clerk’s office was not the only entity on the receiving end of Van Ostenbridge’s ire. Shortly after winning the election in 2020, the commissioner went to war with the City of Holmes Beach over parking spaces. The feud grew as the months wore on and the commissioner was seldom shy about making veiled—and not so veiled—threats against the small island community. 

Earlier this year, the commissioner was able to avoid a misdemeanor charge of petite larceny by agreeing to a pre-trial intervention program. The incident—which he was forced to atone for with community service and an apology letter to the victim—involved Van Ostenbridge having been captured on camera taking a large potted bougainvillea plant from a constituent’s private property. 

Most recently, Van Ostenbridge cut a check to the county as reimbursement for a purchasing card transaction that the Clerk of Circuit Court/Comptroller Angel Colonneso identified as lacking "public purpose" after an Inspector General's audit reviewed the purchase. The purchase made by the commissioner was of detailed voter data of more than 19,000 of his district’s constituents

While Van Ostenbridge has insisted he never intended to buy the voter data, only email addresses, the spreadsheet of data he ultimately obtained through the purchase went far beyond the sort of basic voter information held by local election officials. It included more than 200 data points of possible information attached to those on the list for things like their religious affiliations, occupations, net worth, home values, number of children, and inferred ethnicity, among numerous other personal details. 

There are many months left ahead to see whether any of the commissioner’s less popular antics will impact his ability to raise campaign contributions from individual donors and voters within his commission district to the scale that he has already taken in from special interests outside his district. 

Whether the commissioner continues to pull in overwhelming contributions as he reported for June going forward, the already sizable shadow of $170,000 in campaign funds might be enough to dissuade any other interested candidates from entering the race to challenge the incumbent District 3 commissioner—which might just be the point. 

Dawn Kitterman is a staff reporter for The Bradenton Times. She covers local government and entertainment news. She can be reached at dawn.kitterman@thebradentontimes.com.


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