Heiress puts Publix’s political cash in spotlight; Rep. Donalds largest Publix PAC recipient in SWFL

The connection to the Capitol insurrection is not the first time Publix has come under scrutiny for its political donations. In May 2018 Parkland students protested National Rifle Association donations in Publix supermarket aisles. Above, student David Hogg, leader of the action at a Publix protest. (Photo: David Hogg/Twitter)

Feb. 2, 2021 by David Silverberg

Support for the Jan. 6 anti-election rally on the Ellipse in Washington, DC by the heiress to the Publix Super Market fortune has cast a spotlight on the grocery’s long history of financial support for political candidates, including those in Southwest Florida.

Julie Jenkins Fancelli (Photo: Barry Friedman-LKldNow)

On Jan. 30, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Julie Jenkins Fancelli, daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins, contributed $300,000 to support the rally that turned into the riotous attack on the US Capitol building.

The same day Publix management issued a tweet stating: “Mrs. Fancelli is not an employee of Publix Super Markets, and is neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way. We cannot comment on Mrs. Fancelli’s actions.

“The violence at the Capitol on Jan. 6 was a national tragedy. The deplorable actions that occurred that day do not represent the values, work or opinions of Publix Super Markets.”

Aside from the Ellipse event, Publix has long been politically active in Florida and across the country through its political arm, Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates Political Action Committee (PAC).

In the 2020 election cycle, Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) received the largest political contribution from the PAC, $5,000, among Southwest Florida congressional delegation, according to Federal Election Commission (FEC).

His donation was larger than the PAC’s contributions to his fellow Southwest Florida Republicans. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-25-Fla.), received $1,000 and Rep. Greg Steube (R-17-Fla.), received $500.

The Publix PAC disbursed a total of $531,700 to 250 recipients across the country during the 2020 election cycle. The bipartisan recipients ranged widely from Alabama to Wyoming and included both House and Senate candidates and state-level candidates in North Carolina. The PAC contributed to both primary and general races as well as both the Democratic and Republican House and Senate campaign committees. (A complete list can be seen at the FEC website.)

Well-known Republican recipients include Senate Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) ($5,000, whose check appears to have never been deposited) and Florida’s senators Rick Scott ($2,500) and Marco Rubio ($1,000). Among Florida House Republican members the PAC contributed to Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-1-Fla.) ($1,000) and Brian Mast (R-18-Fla.) ($1,000). Out of state, it supported Rep. Liz Cheney (R-At Large-Wy.) with $2,500. She voted to impeach Trump after the insurrection and has been attacked by fellow Republicans.

Well-known Democratic recipients included House Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-5-Md.), who received $5,000 and Sen. Doug Jones (D-Ala.) ($1,000 in the primary). In Florida it contributed to such candidates as Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Shultz (D-23-Fla.) ($2,000), Rep. Val Demings (D-10-Fla.) ($1,500) and Rep. Donna Shalala. (D-27-Fla.) ($2,000 in the general and $1,500 in the primary), who lost her race.

While covering a wide ideological spectrum, the Publix PAC’s contributions were almost always to incumbents rather than challengers. In Georgia, the PAC supported Republican senators Kelly Loeffler ($1,000) and David “Sonny” Purdue ($2,000), both of whom lost close races to Democratic challengers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock, neither of whom received any contributions from the PAC.

Political contributions reported to the FEC are legal and fall under existing campaign finance regulations. The Publix PAC contributions were fairly typical of large corporations that deal with different governments in multiple states.

According to the company’s “facts and figures,” Publix operates 1,265 stores in seven Southeastern states, with the largest number, 817, in Florida. It also operates nine distribution centers and 11 manufacturing facilities in Florida and Georgia. Jenkins founded the chain in 1930 in Winter Haven, Fla. He died at age 88 in 1996.

Political contributions buy goodwill and can pay off in a variety of ways, in addition to endorsing a candidate’s policy positions.

In 2016 Publix contributed a total of $8,100 to the campaign of conservative Republican Francis Rooney, who eventually won election in the Florida 19th Congressional District. During his time in office Rooney was a strong opponent of union activities, in particular denouncing the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker education and advocacy group. On March 2, 2018 his op-ed, “Worker centers: How unions circumvent federal rules” appeared in the conservative Washington Examiner. He also sponsored or cosponsored bills to reduce union activity and make it more difficult to organize unions and easier to de-certify them. The bills were never enacted into law.

The Fancelli controversy is not the first time Publix has come under fire for its political contributions. In May 2018 Publix announced it would suspend political contributions following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Fla. Protesters led by student David Hogg lay down in supermarket aisles to oppose its donations to Adam Putnam, a Republican gubernatorial candidate and National Rifle Association supporter.

“We regret that our contributions have led to a divide in our community,” the company said in a statement at the time. “We did not intend to put our associates and the customers they serve in the middle of a political debate,”

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

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