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  1. Florida Politics

Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush Super PACs outline donors behind their hauls

Sen. Marco Rubio's Super PAC reported $16 million in donations. The take was concentrated among a handful of donors who wrote huge checks. Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, a longtime benefactor, gave $5 million. Oracle founder Larry Ellison gave $3 million. Besilu Stables, a thoroughbred company in Miami, gave $2.5 million. Laura Perlmutter, wife of Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter, gave $2 million. Rubio also got money from a number of corporate interests, including $100,000 from Florida Crystals Corp. and $100,000 from a group related to the private prison company Geo Group, based in Boca Raton. [Associated Press]
Sen. Marco Rubio's Super PAC reported $16 million in donations. The take was concentrated among a handful of donors who wrote huge checks. Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, a longtime benefactor, gave $5 million. Oracle founder Larry Ellison gave $3 million. Besilu Stables, a thoroughbred company in Miami, gave $2.5 million. Laura Perlmutter, wife of Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter, gave $2 million. Rubio also got money from a number of corporate interests, including $100,000 from Florida Crystals Corp. and $100,000 from a group related to the private prison company Geo Group, based in Boca Raton. [Associated Press]
Published Aug. 1, 2015

WASHINGTON — In a stunning illustration of the shift in the financing of political campaigns, a Super PAC supporting Jeb Bush for president disclosed Friday it had raised $103 million from an array of rich donors and special interests.

A Super PAC backing Marco Rubio reported $16 million — dwarfed by Bush, yet still impressive compared with other candidates.

The Florida Republicans are among the top candidates vying for the nomination, a fight that will likely be dragged out due to the influence of money pouring into Super PACs and other outside groups.

Although traditional campaign committees are limited to $2,700 donations from individuals, Super PACs can accept unlimited donations from people or corporations.

Bush's statistics are breathtaking:

• Twenty-four individuals or companies gave at least $1 million to the pro-Bush Right to Rise USA.

• Twenty-one gave at least $500,000.

• Twenty billionaires kicked in a total of $17.4 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

One of them, Miami health care mogul Miguel "Mike" Fernandez, alone chipped in $3 million.

Tulsa-based Rooney Holdings Inc., controlled by Francis Rooney, donated more than $2 million. Al Hoffman, a Florida developer, gave $1 million and is part of an elite executive committee charged with raising money for the Super PAC.

Rubio's take was concentrated among a handful of donors who wrote huge checks.

Miami auto magnate Norman Braman, a longtime benefactor, gave $5 million. Oracle founder Larry Ellison gave $3 million. Besilu Stables, a thoroughbred company in Miami, gave $2.5 million. Laura Perlmutter, wife of Marvel Entertainment CEO Isaac Perlmutter, gave $2 million.

Rubio's Conservative Solutions PAC also got money from a number of corporate interests, including $100,000 from Florida Crystals Corp. and $100,000 from a group related to the private prison company Geo Group, based in Boca Raton.

Today, all major candidates for president have a Super PAC on their side, and Bush is the undisputed king.

Of Bush's $103 million total, $29.4 million came from Florida donors, a window into the broad support he has in the state he served as governor for two terms.

The committee pulled in $15 million from New York, showing Wall Street's power. Contributors in Bush's native state of Texas gave $17 million. They include Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, who gave $125,000, and his brother, former President George W. Bush, who donated $95,000.

St. Petersburg developers Brent and Mel Sembler combined gave $174,000. Mel Sembler is also on the PAC's fundraising team, and his history with the Bushes dates to 1979, illustrating the deep network the family has built.

Jeb Bush relied heavily on that to help build the war chest and his allies raced to the very final moments of the six-month reporting period to reach a $100 million goal.

"We've been quiet here for a few days to catch our breath, but we'll continue to supply the campaign with the necessary resources to get the message out," said Sembler, an ambassador in both Bush administrations. "Campaign finance money is nothing but voice. The more money you have, the louder your voice. It's not complicated."

More than $90 million was raised before June 15, when Bush became an official candidate and was openly working with the committee. Campaign finance watchdogs have filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission over that arrangement, but Bush's camp insists he is on safe legal footing.

As an official candidate, Bush's interaction with the Super PAC is limited, though the committee is run by his close allies.

He can still appear at fundraisers but not directly ask for big checks — a legal loophole that campaign finance watchdogs say adds to the absurdness of the Super PAC era, unleashed by the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision Citizens United.

"What we are seeing here is the wiping out of the nation's anticorruption campaign finance laws, and it's very dangerous" said Fred Wertheimer of Washington-based Democracy 21, which has joined with other groups to file complaints with the FEC and Justice Department.

Political opponents were already scouring through reports for fodder.

Bush got $1 million from Bradford Freeman of the Freeman Spogli investment firm, which in 2002 won business with the Florida pension system under Bush, according to news reports. The firm paid Bush for speeches in 2007, after his second term as governor, and in 2014, records show.

The Bush Super PAC has begun to spend money, reporting $5.4 million in expenditures on consulting, travel and some digital ads aimed at Democratic front-runner Hillary Rodham Clinton.

On Friday, a pro-Clinton Super PAC, Priorities USA Action, reported $15.6 million in collections.

Times staff writer Kirby Wilson contributed to this report. Contact Alex Leary at aleary@tampabay.com. Follow @learyreports.

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