1. Florida Politics

Meet Florida's big-time donors to super PACs

Published Oct. 14, 2012

In Florida's vast political orbit, Barbara Stiefel hardly registers. Yet if President Barack Obama wins re-election, the 59-year-old retiree from Coral Gables will have played an outsized role.

Stiefel this year has written checks for $50,000 and $1 million to the pro-Obama Priorities USA Action, one of the new breed of "super PACs" using unlimited donations to scramble the rules of political campaigns.

Her money — a mountain compared to the $5,000 she was legally allowed to give directly to Obama — helped produce an onslaught of TV ads portraying Mitt Romney as an out-of-touch corporate raider.

Stiefel, whose family made money in the pharmaceutical business, is not alone in Florida, but she is the only Democratic super donor. Ten residents have given at least $500,000 to super PACs.

"There are some very wealthy people on both sides who are looking to make a statement," said Brian Ballard, a veteran Florida GOP fundraiser. "The super PAC steps it up another notch."

Stiefel did not return messages seeking comment, which was a common thread among the super donors. They either declined to comment or could not be reached.

The nine other heavyweights in Florida have given to Republican causes.

• John W. Childs, 71, of Vero Beach. He runs a private equity firm in Boston and has given $3.1 million to three conservative super PACs, according to records collected by the Center for Responsive Politics. He contributed $1 million to the pro-Romney Restore Our Future; $1.1 million to Club for Growth Action; and $1 million to American Crossroads, a group started by Karl Rove. (Crossroads' latest work is an ad attacking Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson for getting a tax break on pasture land in Brevard County.)

• Bill Koch, 72, of Palm Beach. He is not as well known as his brothers, David and Charles, who have donated millions to conservative causes. Koch and two of his coal companies, Oxbow Carbon and Huron Carbon, have given $3 million to Restore Our Future. "He's a big believer in Mitt Romney," said Koch spokesman Brad Goldstein.

• Irving Moskowitz, 84, of Miami Beach. The businessman and California bingo operator has long been a pro-Israel activist, pushing for Jewish settlements in Arab sections of Jerusalem. Moskowitz gave $1 million to American Crossroads in February.

• Grace Evenstad, 68, of Naples, who owns a winery in Oregon. She has given $250,000 to American Crossroads and $500,000 to Restore Our Future. Her husband, Ken, is CEO of the pharmaceutical company Upsher-Smith.

• Margaret Caveney, 88, and husband Jack Caveney, 86, of North Palm Beach. They have ties to Panduit Corp. in Illinois. They have given $550,000 to several groups, including Restore Our Future and Winning Our Future, which supported Newt Gingrich in the GOP presidential primary.

• Jerry Jordan, 73, of Palm Beach. He founded a hedge fund in Boston and is close to Romney. He and his wife, Darlene, 45, are also on Romney's Florida finance team. The couple have given $500,000 to Restore Our Future.

• Miguel "Mike" Fernandez, 60, of Miami. The chairman of MBF Health Care Partners, a private equity firm, is also on Romney's finance team. He gave $500,000 to Restore Our Future. The related MBF Family Investments gave $500,000 to the same committee.

Big-time campaign money used to be the domain of an exclusive and powerful group of "bundlers" who would scoop up checks from a lot of people. Super PACs have given a more direct voice to the wealthy.

Traditional fundraisers say they haven't felt a strong competition for dollars but it has gotten more complicated.

"It takes longer to get where you're going because of the clutter," said Ann Herberger, a longtime Republican fundraiser in Florida. "Instead of it being, 'Okay, we're raising money for Mitt Romney,' now we're raising money for Mitt Romney five different ways."

Campaign finance watchdogs say super PACs, which flourished after a 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing unlimited contributions from corporations and unions, give too much voice to a small group of wealthy people who often have business interests.

Herberger worries about that, too. "I'm all for the free enterprise system, people getting rich and living their dream. But if I'm poor, is my speech not worth the same?"

Collectively, super PACs have raked in $398 million and counting, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and the top 1 percent of donors have given 58 percent of the total.

No one looms larger than Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who has given more than $36 million to groups supporting Gingrich and Romney. He gave $1 million to Freedom PAC, a group supporting Florida Republican U.S. Senate candidate Connie Mack.

"Almost all of the money spent on these committees is going to attack ads," said Fred Wertheimer, president of Democracy 21, a watchdog group. "They contribute to public cynicism about public office holders. There's no accountability. Candidates have to say (in their ads), 'I take responsibility for that.' Super PACs don't."

Democrats initially criticized the groups but scrambled to form their own, most notably Priorities USA Action. The group was getting swamped by its Republican rivals but donations began to pick up in May with a trio of $1 million donations, including one from Stiefel.

"The people who have been donating to us have been concerned about all the right-wing money that has been pouring into the race and were worried the president could lose," said Bill Burton, a former Obama aide who oversees the effort. "The fact that Democrats have stepped up has been very helpful."

Alex Leary can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @learyreports.


  1. Former Florida attorney general Pam Bondi, U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz and U.S. Rep. Val Demings have prominent roles in the impeachment of President Donald Trump. [AP Photos]
    Pam Bondi, Matt Gaetz, Val Demings and more will factor prominently in the coming weeks. Here’s how.
  2. Career Foreign Service officer George Kent, testifies before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2019, during the first public impeachment hearing of President Donald Trump's efforts to tie U.S. aid for Ukraine to investigations of his political opponents. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    Kent was one of the most high-ranking career officials who had knowledge about elements of the alleged White House effort.
  3. President Donald Trump speaks at the Economic Club of New York at the New York Hilton Midtown in New York on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) ANDREW HARNIK  |  AP
    The explanation gets complicated.
  4. Jomari DeLeon, is pictured at at Gadsden Correctional Facility in Quincy, Florida August 7, 2019. Jomari is three years into a 15-year sentence for drug trafficking. She sold 48 tablets of prescription tablets over two days to an undercover officer. JOHN PENDYGRAFT   |  Times
    Florida lawmakers agreed the state’s old drug sentencing laws went too far. But that means nothing to people serving time.
  5. Sen. Travis Hutson presents his Job Growth Grant Fund legislation to the Senate Education Committee on Nov. 12, 2019. The Florida Channel
    The original version would have targeted charter schools only.
  6. Florida Senator Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, was the sponsor of a law that was to go into effect Friday that would have created new requirements for abortion doctors that could have limited the number of clinics. But the U.S. Supreme Court threw out similar Texas restrictions, raising doubt about the fate of Florida's new law. [Scott Keeler | Times]
    The delay, which kicks a vote on the bill into mid-December, could stall what may be one of state lawmakers’ most contentious decisions on a political live wire going into a presidential election...
  7. A flag supporting President Donald Trump flutters near the University of Florida's Century Tower before an Oct. 10 appearance on campus by Donald Trump Jr. and Kimberly Guilfoyle. A controversy over the political nature of the event has led to calls for the impeachment of Student Body President Michael C. Murphy, who helped set it up. Courtesy of Chris Day
    A push to oust Student Body President Michael Murphy comes after an email surfaces, suggesting he worked with the Trump campaign to bring a political speech to campus.
  8. Morton Myers, 40, is an entrepreneur, a lifelong Clearwater resident and now a candidate for mayor who comes from a family of Scientologists. He says he is not a practicing Scientologist and is running to bring change and representation to all residents. DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Tampa Bay Times
    Morton Myers says he’s not an active member. But with family on Scientology’s staff, he says he’s uniquely positioned to find middle ground with the church.
  9. FILE - In this Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018 file photo, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi speaks to reporters outside the West Wing of the White House in Washington, after meeting with President Donald Trump about about responses to school shootings. Bondi is preparing to defend Trump against accusations that he pressured a foreign government to aid his re-election campaign. And she’s stepping down from a lobbying where she represented foreign interests (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File) J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE  |  AP
    “People are going to discover all over again what Pam Bondi’s made of,” says the consultant who engineered her foray into politics 10 years ago.
  10. President Donald Trump speaks at New York City's 100th annual Veterans Day parade, Monday, Nov. 11, 2019, in New York. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig) SETH WENIG  |  AP
    Trump will speak at the Hollywood summit on Saturday, Dec. 7 before traveling to Orlando for the Florida GOP’s Statesman’s Dinner, the Republican Party of Florida’s biggest fundraiser of the year.