Miami’s political sugar daddies bankrolled — in a big way — the outside groups supporting hometown presidential candidates Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio.
And it wasn’t just donors in the Magic City who dug deep. The “super” political action committees enlisted to do heavy fundraising for Rubio and Bush hauled in more money from Florida than anywhere else, underscoring the pitched battle between the two Republicans to win their home state.
Norman Braman, the Miami auto magnate and civic activist, made good on his promise to stand behind Rubio, whom he called the “candidate of the future.” Braman gave the Conservative Solutions committee backing Rubio a tidy $5 million, according to a financial report the group filed Friday.
“I believe he’s the only Republican who can beat Hillary Clinton,” said Braman, who is said to be willing to give Rubio $10 million. “All the others have been there. I don’t believe in dynasties. I don’t believe in crowning nominees.”
His money — in three checks of $1.5 million, $1.5 million and $2 million in April, May and June — topped the list of contributors to the committee and amounted to nearly a third of the group’s $16.1 million total. About $11.4 million of that came from Florida.
The biggest donor to the Right to Rise USA committee supporting Bush was also a local: Coral Gables healthcare mogul Mike Fernandez, a longtime Bush friend who hosted a March fundraising soiree, contributed $3 million. Right to Rise raised a whopping $103 million in support of Bush’s presidential bid, with Florida donations comprising about $29 million.
The pro-Bush committee pulled in $9.5 million from Miami-Dade County, the most of any county in Florida, according to a Miami Herald analysis of Federal Election Commission filings. Its pro-Rubio counterpart nearly kept up, with $8.1 million. The second most-generous county to both candidates was Palm Beach, with $6.9 million going to Bush and $3.2 million to Rubio.
At least one Miami-Dade donor couldn’t make up his mind — and gave to both candidates.
“Either one of them would be a great president,” said George Feldenkreis, chairman of the Doral-based retailer Perry Ellis. He cut a $10,000 check to the pro-Bush committee in March and one for $5,000 to the pro-Rubio committee in May.
“I can’t choose one. I support both,” he added.
How much the committees collected in total has been known for several weeks, but details on who gave and how much were made public Friday. The reports revealed a broader base of support for Bush than for Rubio, a signal of Bush’s far-reaching support among the GOP establishment.
Nearly two dozen donors gave at least $1 million to the pro-Bush committee. In contrast, a mere four donors made up the bulk of the pro-Rubio committee’s funds.
Both political action committees, which are increasingly serving as powerful, well-financed arms of the campaigns, outraised the actual candidates. Bush’s super PAC in particular dwarfed the $11.4 million his campaign raised. Right to Rise’s total also easily eclipsed the totals announced by any other group, Republican or Democratic, in the 2016 race. Rubio’s campaign and a separate leadership committee have raised $13.2 million. A tax-exempt political nonprofit also supporting Rubio has raised $15.8 million, but it can keep its donors secret.
Neither committee has spent much: Right to Rise reported $98 million in the bank as of June 30 and Conservative Solutions had nearly all of its $16 million unspent.
Campaign-finance law bans candidates from coordinating with super PACs once they are officially running, but the groups, which accept unlimited donations, are paying for what used to be considered traditional campaign activities, such as field organizing, voter turnout and direct mail.
In addition to Braman, Rubio’s other large donors include Larry Ellison, chairman and chief technology officer for tech giant Oracle, who gave $3 million in two donations in May and in June. Ellison was recently listed No. 3 on the Forbes 400 magazine list of the richest people in America. He hosted a fundraising dinner for Rubio’s campaign June 9 in Woodside, California.
Besilu Stables in Miami, owned by Miami healthcare executive Benjamin Leon Jr., gave $2.5 million, and Laura Perlmutter of Lake Worth contributed $2 million.
Bush spent months raising money for Right to Rise, prompting accusations that he skirted campaign-finance laws by postponing his candidacy so that he could continue to raise money. His extensive Florida connections and deep family roots in Texas are reflected in the totals: Right to Rise raised $17 million in the Lone Star State, second only to Florida. That included contributions from the oil-and-gas industry, including $100,000 from Dallas oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens.
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’s and brother’s tenures also contributed to Right to Rise, as did 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 contributed as well.
Coral Gables-based Cocar Lending, which state records show is affiliated with Bush’s former partner, real-estate developer Armando Codina, contributed $200,000. Karl Stenstrom, a regular Bush golf partner and former head of a Swedish consumer-products company who made a fortune launching Pergo floors in the U.S., gave $130,100. Century Homebuilders, the real-estate company run by Bush ally Sergio Pino, gave $110,000. Pino personally contributed $10,000.
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 the elder Bush has strong support in South Florida.
“The people of his hometown know him better than anybody,” he said, “and they feel the same way I do.”