BRADENTON -- In 2011, the state legislature allocated an extra $5 million in funding for the rowing facility at Nathan Benderson Park, near the Manatee/Sarasota County line off University parkway, near I-75. But Governor Scott vetoed the item, one of dozens nixed in what he hailed as an assault on special interest pork and Tallahassee insider politics.
But when Scott not only approved the funding in both of his next two budgets, but showed up in Sarasota recently to celebrate the facility, many skeptics wondered whether it was a legitimate change of heart that swayed the governor or the pile of campaign cash that flowed into his re-election coffers.
Randy Benderson of Benderson Development (whose father the park is named after) gave Scott’s Let’s Get to Work political action committee $100,000 this year, after donating $25,000 in 2012.
Pat Neal, the biggest residential developer in the area surrounding the park, has given over $58,000 to the PAC this year through his interests, after giving the PAC $35,000 in 2012.
Scott says that the project, which has received nearly $40 million in total public funding (including around $1 million from Manatee County), won his favor based on potential economic impact, not political donations.
There's an argument to be made for the park, which recently hosted the U.S. Rowing Masters National Championships and is a top contender to host the 2017 World Rowing Championships. It has the potential to become a major site in a sport that is seen as white-collar, delivering high-end, cash-spending fans, sponsors and participants to the area during marquee events.
But that was true before its biggest boosters were lining the governor's reelection accounts. Would Scott have been standing on a podium singing the praises of the park, as well as Neal and Benderson had those checks not rolled in? I guess we'll never know.
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