Money flows into Florida congressional races despite uncertain boundaries

Kevin Hayslett, a Republican candidate for Congressional District 13 in Pinellas County, raised more this quarter than any other candidate in the race.
Light shines from the U.S. Capitol dome after sunset, Jan. 25, 2022, in Washington.
Light shines from the U.S. Capitol dome after sunset, Jan. 25, 2022, in Washington. [ PATRICK SEMANSKY | AP ]
Published April 21, 2022|Updated April 21, 2022

Even as uncertainty swirled over Florida’s congressional map, major money flowed into the campaign coffers of Tampa Bay candidates vying for seats in the U.S. House in the first quarter of 2022.

In the hotly contested 13th Congressional District in Pinellas County, the top four highest-earning Democratic and Republican candidates pulled in a combined nearly $1.7 million in the most recent quarter alone.

Republican Kevin Hayslett, a Clearwater attorney, led the pack despite being the most recent to enter the race. He brought in $750,728 in the first quarter of the year, according to federal campaign finance records.

Republicans are hoping to flip the 13th District, which is being vacated by Democratic U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist as he makes another run for Florida governor, as they seek to win back control of the House of Representatives.

A congressional redistricting map Florida lawmakers approved this week would make the district more solidly red by excluding a part of Democratic-leaning St. Petersburg. The map, which was proposed by the governor’s office, now goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature.

Related: Florida legislators make no changes to DeSantis' redistricting map

While congressional candidates don’t need to live in the district they’re running in, how the districts are drawn could affect different candidates’ chances. Candidates can jump into a race or change where they’re running until the end of congressional qualifying: June 17.

Hayslett announced his run for the 13th District in January with an endorsement from Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri and former county sheriff Jim Coats.

Hayslett’s donations in the first quarter of 2022 skewed more toward larger-dollar amounts than those of other 13th District candidates. About 40 percent of Hayslett’s donations were for $1,000 or more, including checks from Frank Chivas, the head of Baystar Restaurant Group, and Paul Scagnelli, the owner of Oz Gentlemen’s Club in Clearwater.

Republican Anna Paulina Luna, who went up against Crist for the 13th District seat in 2020, brought in the second-highest amount of money for the quarter, $414,717. More than 75 percent of her donations this quarter were for $100 or less, mostly from in-state donors or donations directed to her through WinRed, a GOP fundraising platform.

She has spent more than a million dollars so far and has less cash on hand than her competitors.

Among other Republican candidates, strategist Amanda Makki brought in $222,746; nonprofit founder Audrey Henson got $71,307; business owner Christine Quinn got $11,105; and Moneer Kheireddine, a former University of South Florida student body president who recently jumped in the race, brought in $2,835.

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Among Democrats, Eric Lynn, a national security consultant, brought in the most money for the year’s first quarter: $261,119.

Lynn’s candidacy has benefited from Progress Pinellas, a political action committee funded solely by hedge fund investor Justin Ishbia, an Illinois resident. In April, the action committee spent about $900,000 on a media buy on behalf of Lynn.

Ishbia, who primarily donates to Republican candidates, is a first cousin of Lynn.

“Having grown up as first cousins, I couldn’t be more proud to support Eric in his campaign for Congress,” Ishbia said in a statement. “From a young age, I have watched him take on leadership roles at all levels of public service.”

Democrat Ben Diamond, a state representative, raised $243,861 in the first quarter for his 13th District run, while Michele Rayner, another St. Petersburg state representative, raised $182,312.

Diamond has raised the most overall among Democrats, bringing in more than $1.2 million total. However, he has raised less money with each successive quarter since announcing his campaign. Lynn has raised more money for three quarters in a row.

Rayner had her best fundraising performance yet in the first quarter of the year.

Hillsborough’s 14th District in play

The Republican National Congressional Committee also is targeting Florida’s 14th Congressional District among 72 seats nationwide it thinks are competitive for Republicans.

The district, which currently encompasses southern Hillsborough County but will change with new maps to include part of St. Petersburg, has been held by Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor since 2007.

Castor was out-fundraised in the most recent quarter by a Republican opponent, Jay Collins, a former Green Beret.

She raised $324,304 last quarter and has raised about $870,000 total. In comparison, Collins brought in $401,261 in the last quarter, making it the third successive quarter where he has brought in more money than Castor. He’s raised about $770,000 total.

Collins has spent more, and has about $500,000 less available in cash on hand than Castor.

“Jay’s strong grassroots, organizational, and financial support all show he is the one best equipped to take on the establishment and win the Republican primary in August and most importantly in November,” said Chris Pack, a spokesperson for Collins.

Small-dollar donations of $100 or less made up about 63 percent of contributions to Collins’ campaign in the latest quarter.

Castor’s campaign spokesperson, Charles Martínez-Cartagena, said Castor’s total of cash on hand shows her strong support from the community, and that 90 percent of her donations are from individuals.

“This strong showing keeps her on track for a successful reelection campaign with strong grassroots support,” Martínez-Cartagena said.

Florida’s new redistricting map will make Florida’s 14th District even more solidly blue. If the proposed map had been in place in 2020, Biden would have won the seat with 60 percent of the vote, instead of the 58 percent he received in the current configuration.

Also running for the 14th District seat: Republican James Judge, a veteran and public relations business owner, who raised $22,299 in the last quarter; Republican Chris Chambers, who works as a manager at Tampa Electric, who raised $9,071; and Democrat Christopher Bradley a director for U.S. Special Operations Command, who raised $8,110.