One of the most important races on the August ballot is the Democratic primary to decide who takes on Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in November: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried vs. Congressman Charlie Crist.
As the race goes down the home stretch, campaign donations have increasingly become an issue in the race. While both campaigns have hundreds of small-dollar donations, NBC 6 Investigators wanted to look at the major funders of both the candidates.
Commissioner Nikki Fried
One of the most recent large donations was $100,000 from Michael Fernandez. In total, he’s given Fried more than $400,000. Fernandez usually gives to Republican candidates; most notably supporting Jeb Bush or other opponents of then-candidate Donald Trump in the 2016 Republican primary for president.
Her Bold Move Action, a group supporting women candidates who support abortion access, donated $100,000 to Fried.
Fried has received several hundred thousand dollars from political committees commonly used by large sugar companies, public utilities, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and the big business advocacy arm the Associated Industries of Florida.
Education for All, Floridians for Economic Advancement, Floridians for a Stronger Democracy, Florida Alliance for Better Government, and other similarly titled committees are largely funded by Florida Power and Light and its parent company NextEra Energy, sugar company Florida Crystals and Associated Industries. Usually, the donations come in the form of $10,000 or $15,000 chunks. The most recent ones were in July.
The NBC 6 Investigators get results
The Crist-supporting VoteWater advocacy group earlier drew attention to the donations from the sugar companies. NBC 6 requested a comment from Fried’s campaign and has not yet heard back.
“Political committees are a way for individuals, corporations, unions, other interests to hide money so to speak. This is all legal under Florida law,” said NBC 6 political analyst Carlos Curbelo.
Curbelo says big business groups donate to Fried for several reasons. First, companies usually donate to get the ear of their regulators and as commissioner of agriculture, Fried plays a key role in regulating big industry. Some of their donations came into Fried’s political committee Florida Consumers First before she announced her run for governor.
“They just know her because they’ve had to interact with her over the last four years. So, a lot of times companies and individuals feel comfortable supporting someone they know,” Curbelo said.
Second, many of these companies may dislike Crist more than they like Fried, and they want to make his life difficult. When he was the Republican attorney general and governor, Crist often clashed with FPL and big sugar companies.
“Charlie Crist is a populist. And even when he was a Republican governor, he still had a strong populist streak,” Curbelo said.
Congressman Charlie Crist
Representative Charlie Crist has raised more money in the race for governor. He got an early boost from transferring $185,000 from his campaign for U.S. Congress.
Just this month, Crist received a $500,000 donation from the American Federation of Teachers, the largest teachers union in the country. Local and state teachers unions have also supported Crist’s campaign financially.
Then wealthy liberal philanthropists Barbara Steifel and Francoise Haasch-Jones have also cut checks totaling several hundreds of dollars.
Curbelo says the donations show that the state’s Democratic establishment is backing Crist over Fried.
“Charlie Crist has fully transitioned to being a solid blue democrat. Charlie Crist was a Republican. Then he became an independent. For a time, he was a fairly centrist Democrat. And now, he’s got the full support of the Democratic establishment,” Curbelo said.
Crist, however, does also have some political committee donations. NBC 6 Investigators found one group called Winning Florida — run by Fort Lauderdale election attorney Jason Blank — gave to both Crist and Fried. That organization is partially funded by Florida sugar and utility interests.
You can explore the candidate’s donations online at the secretary of state’s database for: