The outside super political action committees supporting Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio raised more money in Florida than anywhere else, underscoring the pitched battle to win their home state.
The Right to Rise USA committee that backs Bush raised $29 million in Florida, while the Conservative Solutions committee that backs Rubio raised $11.4 million in the state.
Nearly two dozen donors gave at least $1 million to Right to Rise USA, which reported in a filing Friday that it raised a whopping $103 million in support of Bush’s bid for the Republican presidential nomination. Coral Gables healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez topped the list of major donors with a $3 million contribution.
Four big donors made up the bulk of the $16.1 million raised by the outside political action committee supporting Rubio’s bid for the presidency. Topping the list of supporters Conservative Solutions PAC at $5 million was Miami auto dealer Norman Braman, who has long backed Rubio.
Some local donors are supporting both candidates.
George Feldenkreis, chairman and CEO of the Doral-based retailer Perry Ellis, cut checks to both super PACs: $10,000 to Right to Rise in April and $5,000 to Conservative Solutions in May.
“Either one of them would be a great president,” said Feldenkreis, who will step down as CEO in January. “I can’t choose one. I support both.”
Both political action committees, which are increasingly serving as powerful, well-financed arms of the campaigns, outraised the actual presidential campaigns, with Bush’s super PAC in particular dwarfing the $11.4 million his campaign raised. It also easily eclipses the totals announced by any other group, Republican or Democratic, active in the 2016 race. Rubio’s campaign and his leadership committee have raised $13.2 million.
Neither candidate can legally coordinate with the super PACs now that they are official candidates, but the groups, which accept unlimited donations, are bankrolling what used to be considered traditional campaign activities, such as field organizing, voter turnout and direct mail.
Bush’s report shows the former Florida governor’s extensive network among the wealthy and well-connected in Florida, as well as his family’s deep roots in Texas, where the committee raised $17 million — its second highest grossing state. That included contributions from the oil and gas industry, including $100,000 from Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens.
Bush spent months raising money for the group, prompting accusations that he skirted campaign finance laws by postponing his candidacy so that he could continue to raise money.
Bush's father, former president George H.W. Bush, contributed $125,000 and his brother, George W. Bush, gave $95,000. They both listed their occupation as “retired.” The eldest Bush’s vice president, Dan Quayle, contributed $10,000.
More than two dozen former ambassadors from his father and brother’s tenures also contributed to Right to Rise.
Other million-dollar contributors included Rooney Holdings, Inc., of Tulsa, Oklahoma; California investor William E. Oberndorf, a board member of Bush’s Foundation for Excellence in Education; San Francisco investor Helen O. Schwab, wife of financier Charles Schwab; North Palm Beach-based Nextera Energy, Inc.; Republican mega-financier Al Hoffman, the founder and former chairman of WCI Communities Inc.; hedge fund billionaire Louis M. Bacon; Raul Rodriguez, president of Miami-based Clinical Medical Services, Inc.; and Hushang Ansary, a former Iranian ambassador to the United States and his wife, Shahla.
Other contributors included U.S. Sugar’s Charitable Trust and Miami Heat owner Micky Arison. The owners of the New Orleans Saints, Washington Redskins and San Francisco Giants also contributed to the committee.
Karl Stenstrom, a regular Bush golf partner and the former CEO of a Swedish consumer-products company who made a fortune launching Pergo floors in the United States, gave $130,000.
Ronald Krongold, a real-estate investor based in Coral Gables who contributed $100,000 to Right to Rise, called Bush the “best candidate running.
“I think that he will bring back the United States to the status and the prosperity that it should have,” said Krongold, who first met Bush on a trip to Israel in 1983 and is now business partners with his son, Jeb Jr. He said Bush has strong support in South Florida.
"The people of his hometown know him better than anybody and they feel the same way I do," he said.
Rubio’s other large donors include Lawrence J. Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer for tech giant Oracle, who gave $3 million in two donations, in May and in June. Ellison is currently listed No. 3 on the Forbes 400 magazine list of the richest people in America.
Besilu Stables LLC in Miami, owned by Miami health care executive Benjamin Leon Jr., gave $2.5 million; and Laura Perlmutter of Lake Worth contributed $2 million.
Neither committee has spent much: Right to Rise reported $98 million in the bank as ofJune 30 and Conservative Solutions had nearly all of its $16 million unspent.
Both groups are considered super PAC — or “independent expenditure-only” committees — that may raise unlimited sums of money to spend supporting or opposing political candidates. While there are restrictions on coordination with or direction from an official campaign, such outside groups effectively extend a candidate’s message and can serve as a repository for big-check donors who have already maxed out their contributions to the main campaign committee.
Between the super PAC backing Rubio, a separate outside non-profit group, and his official campaign and leadership committees, more than $40 million has been raised by the candidate and those supporting him.
While that pales in comparison to more than $100 million pulled in by or on behalf of Jeb Bush, it makes him competitive with other GOP contenders.
Campaign finance experts have said Rubio’s goals can be different than Bush’s — and that his broad-based support will demonstrate his appeal as the GOP primaries heat up.