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Vern Buchanan challenger for Congress lends his own campaign $500,000

Eddie Speir, a former New College trustee and Christian school owner, faces an uphill battle against the eight-term Republican.
 
Former New College trustee Eddie Speir has loaned his campaign for Congress $500,000 in his primary bid to pick off incumbent Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key.
Former New College trustee Eddie Speir has loaned his campaign for Congress $500,000 in his primary bid to pick off incumbent Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key. [ ERIKA HAYES | Courtesy of the candidate ]
Published Feb. 9|Updated Feb. 9

Former New College trustee and Christian school owner Eddie Speir has loaned $500,000 of his own money to his primary campaign against Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, for the 16th Congressional District seat representing Manatee and southern Hillsborough counties.

It’s a risky move.

Not only is Buchanan a solid incumbent in his eighth term, he’s also a prolific fundraiser. And he has plenty of his own money to spend if needed, with a net worth estimated at $115 million to $350 million, based on financial disclosures that give ranges rather than precise figures.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is the Republican incumbent in Florida's 16th Congressional District.
U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan is the Republican incumbent in Florida's 16th Congressional District. [ U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan ]

As of Dec. 31, campaign finance reports showed Buchanan had $1.6 million in his campaign account and Speir had $427,152, after expenses and including the loan.

Since winning the seat in 2006, Buchanan has faced primary challengers only twice, getting more than 80% both times.

But Speir’s profile was elevated when Gov. Ron DeSantis named him as one of six New College trustees in 2023 as part of the governor’s plan to revamp the school’s liberal image.

The state Senate declined to confirm him, however, after Senate committee discussion of his actions in evangelizing among students on campus. Speir blamed his ouster on Richard Corcoran, a DeSantis ally chosen by the new trustees as college president.

Speir calls Buchanan “a statesman for the status quo” and says he’s no better than a Democrat.

Acknowledging Buchanan’s strong odds, Speir said in an interview that it’s “precisely because of those odds” that he chose to risk his own money.

“I faced odds when I started a business without any capital and grew it,” he said. “Starting a school was definitely going up against the entrenched establishment. People are sick of money buying politics. If we can get the people’s voice to be heard outside of money, that’s what they’re longing for.”

Speir previously started a mortgage origination software company that later sold with him as partial owner for $150 million. But he said he refinanced property to make the loan to his campaign.

“I was once very wealthy and I’ve chosen to live a very simple life,” he said.

Neither Buchanan nor Speir would provide precise net worth figures.

If his campaign spends the loan money, it would be tough for Speir to raise money to repay the loan unless he wins.