One of the most important races in the August ballot is the Democratic primary to decide who will face Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in November: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried versus Congressman Charlie Crist.
As the race winds down, campaign donations are increasingly an issue in the race. While both campaigns have hundreds of small-dollar donations, NBC 6 investigators wanted to look into the top backers of both candidates.
Curator Nikki Fried
One of the most recent large donations was $100,000 from Michael Fernandez. In total, he gave Fried more than $400,000. Fernandez usually donates to Republican candidates; including supporting Jeb Bush or other opponents of then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary for president.
Her Bold Move Action, a group supporting women candidates who support abortion access, donated $100,000 to Fried.
Fried received several hundred thousand dollars from political committees commonly used by big sugar companies, utilities, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the big business defense arm, the Associated Industries of Florida.
Education for All, Floridians for Economic Advancement, Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, Florida Alliance for Better Government and other committees with similar names are largely funded by Florida Power and Light and its parent company NextEra Energy, sugar company Florida Crystals and Associated Industries. Usually, donations come in the form of $10,000 or $15,000 increments. The most recent date from July.
Advocacy group VoteWater, which supports Crist, has previously drawn attention to sugar company donations. NBC 6 has requested comment from Fried’s campaign and has yet to receive a response.
“Political committees are a way for individuals, businesses, unions and other interests to hide money so to speak. This is all legal under Florida law,” said NBC 6 political analyst Carlos Curbelo.
Curbelo says large corporate groups donate to Fried for several reasons. First, corporations typically donate to be heard by their regulators, and as agriculture commissioner, Fried plays a key role in regulating big industry. Some of their donations made their way to Fried’s policy committee, Florida Consumers First, before she announced her candidacy for governor.
“They just know her because they’ve had to interact with her for the past four years. So often businesses and individuals feel comfortable supporting someone they know,” Curbelo said.
Second, many of these companies may not like Crist more than they like Fried, and they want to make life difficult for him. When he was Attorney General and Republican Governor, Crist often clashed with the FPL and the big sugar companies.
“Charlie Crist is a populist. And even when he was a Republican governor, he still had a strong populist streak,” Curbelo said.
Congressman Charlie Crist
Rep. Charlie Crist has raised more money in the gubernatorial race. He got an early boost by transferring $185,000 from his campaign to the US Congress.
This month, Crist received a $500,000 donation from the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest teachers’ union. Local and state teachers’ unions also financially supported Crist’s campaign.
Then wealthy liberal philanthropists Barbara Steifel and Francoise Haasch-Jones also cut checks totaling several hundred dollars.
Curbelo says the donations show the Democratic establishment in the state supports Crist over Fried.
“Charlie Crist completely transitioned into being a solid blue Democrat. Charlie Crist was a Republican. Then he became an independent. For a while he was a pretty centrist Democrat. And now he has the full support of the Democratic establishment said Curbelo.
Crist, however, also has political committee donations. NBC 6 investigators found that a group called Winning Florida — led by Fort Lauderdale election attorney Jason Blank — gave Crist and Fried. This organization is partially funded by Florida sugar interests and utilities.
You can explore the candidate’s gifts online in the Secretary of State’s database to: