Hillsborough and Pinellas are neighboring urbanized counties with concurrent interests, but one place they strikingly differ is recent fundraising fortunes of their local political parties.
The Hillsborough Democratic Party raised almost six times as much money during the 2022 election year as the Republicans — $429,681 to $71,776, according to recently filed campaign finance reports.
But in Pinellas, the Republicans raised about three times as much as the Democrats, $271,370 to $90,486.
The reasons for the disparities, according to leaders in both parties: factionalism and leadership.
The Pinellas Democrats have been hampered by moderate-vs.-progressive factionalism, said outgoing Chairperson Lucinda Johnston. In Hillsborough, meanwhile, Democrats have built a strong fundraising machine led by chairperson Ione Townsend and Executive Director Mark Hanisee.
“They’re kind of a fundraising juggernaut,” newly elected Pinellas chairperson Jennifer Griffith said of the Hillsborough party. “I’m so jealous. It’s going to take a lot of work for Pinellas to build a structure like that.”
In Pinellas, Republicans “really do have a good machine in place” following “more than two decades of very professional leadership,” said newly elected chairperson Adam Ross. “Our donors trust us, the legislative delegation trusts us and everybody works together.”
In Hillsborough, meanwhile, major donors abandoned the local party over the last few years, criticizing former chairperson and MAGA firebrand Jim Waurishuk. Some started a new political committee aiming to supplement the local party. Newly elected chairperson Dana Galen hopes to restore trust.