Termed out Senate President Andy Gardiner has collected millions of dollars in political donations, what happens now that he is leaving the Senate?
By Jacob Engels
As Andy Gardiner spends the next few months tying up loose ends before his final term in the Senate ends, political insiders and donors are buzzing with one simple question… what will he do with the millions he has stockpiled through various committees during his tenure as Senate President.
You see, from serving as a member of the Florida House… to leading the Apopka Chamber of Commerce and more recently as a member of the Florida Senate, Andy Gardiner has always excelled at raising coin.
After cutting his teeth as a State Representative, Gardiner got a taste of the power and prestige that comes with gathering large sums of money for himself and other candidates or organizations that he was tied to.
A former board member with the Apopka Chamber of Commerce told us that he quickly realized how Gardiner was manipulating his influence in Tallahassee to fund the business group during his tenure from the late nineties to mid 2000’s.
“We saw a substantial increase in members and event sponsors that had no business interests in the Apopka area. He leveraged his position as an elected official to fund the Chamber, or more importantly his hefty compensation package and that of his allies involved with the Apopka Chamber.”
After stepping down as the leader of the group in mid to late 2000’s, Gardiner had already padded enough coffers and traded so many favors that he was on his way to collecting a steadily rising six-figure payday ($271,000/year in 2014) with Orlando Health – according to News Service of Florida. His tenure as a top-level executive of the Orlando based collection of not-for-profit hospitals has been little more than a title for the Senator. An employee who works at Orlando Health, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that they rarely see him on-site.
“Mr. Gardiner and his wife have done some really great things for children born with disabilities, and that is admirable. However, the amount of money he collects is not requisite for the services he renders for Orlando Health. It’s been an ongoing problem, he is capable of much more.”
Just last election cycle, the Senator was publicly thanked by Orange County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Lew Oliver for securing over $120,000 in funds from the Republican Party of Florida to oppose a partisan ballot amendment in Orange County. Many insiders saw this a pre-emptive move by the Senator to crush partisan elections in Orange County that would have required County Commission and Mayoral candidates to disclose party affiliation to voters. You see, Gardiner was planning ahead for his next elected office… and had his sights set on Orange County. We even listed him as a potential candidate for Mayor in our article examining the race last year.
The measure would eventually fail, and pave the way for a potential Andy Gardiner for Mayor of Orange County campaign. Donors who contributed to the RPOF were reportedly upset that Gardiner “strongly encouraged” the state GOP to use their money opposing the effort… after realizing the Senators true motives.
More recently, following the surprise defeat of Leslie Dougher, the one-term Chairwoman of the RPOF and favorite of capitol insiders by newcomer and freshman State Representative Blaise Ingoglia, Gardiner pulled $4million dollars from the Republican Party of Florida bank account and placed it back in the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, which he runs.
Now, with Gardiner betraying his lifelong friend Dean Asher, who came to Gardiner for his support to succeed him in the Senate, the Senate President has vowed to remain in control by forcing his wife into a grueling campaign to replace him in Florida’s 13th Senate District. A staffer with the Republican Party of Florida confirmed that the Senator has told donors and elected officials who are supporting his onetime friend Dean Asher, that they are essentially committing political treason… as we reported a few weeks ago in our article titled “Andy Gardiner’s Game of Thrones.”
The staffer pointed to the fact Gardiner has transferred $4 million from the RPOF coffers back to his senatorial campaign committee, and then sent $250,000 to “The Conservative” PAC – which is run by Gardiner ally Tom Lee.
“That $250,000 injection from Gardiner’s committee is the largest contribution the PAC received in February, and happened shortly after Andy started publicly campaigning against Dean. We think he is ‘parking” his money with Lee’s PAC.”
Now with his wife’s Senate candidacy expected to be announced any day, the people of Senate District 13 must ask three simple questions.
1). Will Andy Gardiner use money that he collected for reasons other than supporting his wife’s Senate candidacy to actually fund his wife’s questionable campaign?
2). If he is willing to use donor money improperly to further his wife politically, and in turn work to maintain his political power-structure… what wont this man do to remain an “influencer?”
3). Why would his wife, who has never hinted at wanting to run for office in the past, want to enter into a grueling campaign – when she has a flourishing non-profit that is helping hundreds of Florida families who have children with down syndrome.
Look, Camille Gardiner is a nice lady, who has done much to improve the funding and attention the state allocated to children with disabilities, as has Andy. But her potential Senate candidacy isn’t about helping Floridians, it’s about helping Andy Gardiner secure his six-figure paydays, with little to no time actually spent earning that money. You see, if he loses his ability to manipulate in the capitol… Orlando Health and other potential employers will no longer see the need in a six-figure payday that requires little to no work. Senator Gardiner seems to be reasoning that by electing his wife to the Florida Senate, business as usual will continue. A vote for Camille Gardiner will be a vote for Andy.
Anyways, how well would a probable Senator Camille Gardiner fair in Florida Senate? Andy is allegedly telling donors and operatives that she is smarter and would do a better job than any other Senator currently elected. That is not the way to build bridges, and Mrs. Gardiner would almost certainly be a victim of her husband’s heavy handed tactics, and that would leave Senate District 13 neutered in the capitol.
Andy Gardiner should tread carefully.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post & Seminole County Post. He is a seasoned political operative who has led numerous statewide political groups and has worked on several high-profile local, statewide, and national races. Jacob has been interviewed on national television & radio programs, with his work having been featured in the Orlando Sentinel, New York Times, Washington Post, Miami Herald and other publications nationwide. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org