As Gov. Rick Scott gave his State of the State speech to open the legislative session last week, his cheering section looked on from the upstairs visitors box in the House chamber.
Scott's wife, Ann, was there with their two daughters, sons-in-law and their young grandsons. Lenny Curry, chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, was there. So was Brian Ballard, a lobbyist who raises lots of money for GOP candidates.
Also nearby was Mike Fernandez, a wealthy Cuban-American health care executive from Coral Gables and co-finance chairman of Scott's 2014 re-election campaign.
Fernandez has written three personal checks totaling $1.25 million to Scott's Let's Get to Work re-election fund, including $1 million in a single check in November. Firms in which he has an interest have given an additional $150,000 to Let's Get to Work and $40,000 more to the state Republican Party, plus $15,000 to Scott's re-election fund.
"He believes in what I'm doing," Scott said. "He believes in good government."
Fernandez owns MBF Healthcare Management, MBF Family Investments and other firms. The companies have won lucrative long-term contracts under the state's Medicaid managed-care program.
Scott rejects the idea that it doesn't pass the smell test for his leading fundraiser to have such a big stake in contracts doled out by agencies under Scott's control.
"Whatever business Mike does with the state of Florida he does on his own," Scott said. "If you listen to his story, he was escorted out of Cuba on a government plane. He believes in the dream of America, which is what I believe in."
The sheer magnitude of Fernandez's investment in Scott's future ensures that this story will be around for a long time.
On Monday, the Florida Democratic Party said: "It really pays off to be Rick Scott's top campaign donor."
Democrats were reacting to news that Fernandez will host a Republican Governors Association fundraiser for Scott at his Coral Gables mansion, with Mitt Romney as the featured guest and an admission fee of $25,000 a person on March 24.
Fernandez did not become a billionaire overnight. He noted that his companies have won Medicaid contracts since 1989 under Republican and Democratic administrations.
"It is a fair process. We have to compete fairly," he said. "The company that I invest in did not win every region that we wanted to get. Others got more, others got less. I got less than I hoped for. There was no favoritism involved. It doesn't play that way."
Fernandez came to the United States from Cuba with nothing and has become an extremely rich man. His priority is to ensure that Scott defeats his likely opponent, Charlie Crist.
"Rick will win. It's that simple," he said. "You have a doer versus a talker. You have a guy who's a flip-flopper versus a guy who's a doer."
Fernandez said Crist has "slickness" and Scott has "substance."
It's Fernandez's job, along with others, to make sure Scott has all the money he needs to run a healthy and successful race.
"I think it will be a $100 million race," he said, "and we are ready for that."
Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] or (850)224-7263.