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

Ivanka Trump comes to Southwest Florida selling faltering campaign

Financial record of Trump campaign makes for questionable investment.

Ivanka Trump promoting Goya beans. (Photo: Ivanka Trump Twitter)

Oct. 20, 2020 by David Silverberg

In a last-ditch effort to sway voters in what has in the past been a reliably Republican area, the election campaign of President Donald Trump is deploying First Daughter Ivanka Trump to Southwest Florida to shore up support and raise money.

A “Make America Great Again” rally that is sure to be a COVID superspreader event has now been officially scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 21 at 1:00 pm at Top Rocker Field at Six Bends in Fort Myers.

Ivanka Trump is also reportedly going to speak at a private, invitation-only fundraising event in Naples, according to a number of local news outlets. The unconfirmed location is reported to be at the Old Collier Golf Club. The cost of attending is reportedly $15,000 per person and $100,000 per table. However, this event cannot be confirmed through official campaign websites or statements.

The First Daughter’s blitz comes as the polling site FiveThirtyEight.com gives Democratic candidate Joe Biden a 69 percent chance of carrying Florida with 51.1 percent of the popular vote, based on multiple polls. In 2016, Trump carried Florida with 49 percent of the vote, or a margin of 112,911 votes.

The Trump campaign money record

As exciting as having such a distinguished celebrity in Naples might be, those who are in the $15,000 per plate class might want to ask themselves before they fork over the cash: What am I donating to?

(And also: What can possibly be served for lunch that’s worth $15,000?)

From its outset the Trump campaign has been plagued by money woes. In a Sept. 7, 2020 New York Times article, “How Trump’s Billion-Dollar Campaign Lost Its Cash Advantage,” reporters Shane Goldmacher and Maggie Haberman detailed a campaign of undisciplined spending that burned through hundreds of millions of dollars.

It also featured chaotic purchasing, erratic hiring and disorganized messaging all in the service of an unrestrained and volatile candidate.

Much of this can be laid at the feet of Brad Parscale, Trump’s initial campaign manager. It was Parscale who rode in a chauffeured car and flew on private planes, who decided to spend money on questionably effective advertising, including heavy investment in the Washington, DC media market primarily so that Trump could see his ads on local TV.

The article quotes Ed Rollins, a veteran Republican strategist who runs a small pro-Trump super political action committee, as saying: “If you spend $800 million and you’re 10 points behind, I think you’ve got to answer the question ‘What was the game plan?’” He accused Parscale of spending “like a drunken sailor,” and noted “I think a lot of money was spent when voters weren’t paying attention.”

Parscale has since been replaced by Bill Stepien, who has taken a lower profile and tightened spending. However, the campaign’s cash chaos has not ceased.

Another exposé of Trump campaign spending also appeared in September in The Atlantic, titled “Trump Is Running His Campaign Like He Ran His Businesses.” The article by David Graham noted, “The president is again profiting handsomely at the expense of those trusting enough to give him money.”

Graham wrote: “The Trump 2020 campaign seems to be running on the same principle as many of the president’s commercial endeavors: Trump gets richer, while other people’s money gets lit on fire. This was how some of the president’s real-estate ventures and casinos operated, and so it’s unsurprising that it’s how he’s chosen to run his campaign—and the country.”

Along those lines, in July the Campaign Legal Center, a non-partisan, non-profit organization that seeks to advance “democracy through law,” filed an 82-page complaint with the Federal Election Commission charging that the campaign violated campaign finance law by illegally spending $170 million in disguised spending by “laundering the funds” through a variety of companies.

Commentary: The Shark Tank for real

Making a donation to a political campaign is a lot like investing in a business. As a donor you’re essentially investing in an outcome. You may be driven by ideological urges rather than profit, but many of the principles of effective donating and investing are the same.

Any investor knows the drill for evaluating a business pitch (and the public can see a version of it on the TV program Shark Tank): You look at the company’s business plan, its leadership and products, past performance if the company’s established or the founders’ past record if it’s a startup. You check references and media coverage. You examine the market and the needs and you try to peer out to the future to determine its prospects. Then you go through the spreadsheets to find errors or erroneous assumptions. In the end you make a bet—or not.

If the Trump presidency and campaign was a business investment opportunity, what would a potential investor see?

The company’s chief executive officer (CEO) is erratic, irascible, uncontrolled and uncontrollable but still overly controlling. He’s diseased and seemingly deranged. He’s been responsible for six previous bankruptcies and was cut off from established credit sources. He and his companies may be $1 billion in debt to unknown creditors. The company’s products are badly flawed and simply not working and demand for them has cratered. Its performance (the economy) has collapsed from bad management. An outside force (a pandemic) could have been mitigated or controlled early on but wasn’t because of poor assumptions and delusional reactions. The references are terrible, with former executives uniformly denouncing and exposing the CEO’s shortcomings and crimes. Other than the media controlled or co-opted by the CEO, coverage is uniformly and unrelentingly bad. The market is trending against the company with all market research indicating its competitor is going to dominate. The spreadsheets are unavailable or those provided are of very questionable reliability. The likely prospect is that a bankruptcy declaration will come Nov. 3.

This is the company that Ivanka Trump will be coming to Naples to sell on Wednesday.

People who can afford a $15,000 per plate meal did not qualify for sitting at that kind of table by being stupid.

But for those who buy in: Enjoy lunch.

Liberty lives in light

© 2020 by David Silverberg

Follow the money: Figlesthaler’s finances and what they mean

02-05-20 Figlesthaler speechDr. William Figlesthaler delivers his own State of the Union address in a campaign video.       (Image: Dr. Fig for Congress campaign)

Feb. 6, 2020 by David Silverberg

Final 4th Quarter 2019 financial figures are out for the political campaigns in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District, so it’s time to survey the standing of all 11 candidates.

But it’s not enough just to recount what candidates have reported to the Federal Election Commission. In a series of articles called “Follow the money,” The Paradise Progressive will analyze what the numbers mean for each campaign, what they tell us about each candidate’s popular support and how each candidate is positioned for the days ahead.

Because it’s such a crowded field these articles will appear singly as individual profiles.

We’ll look at candidates in the order of the amount of money they raised in 2019.

Willliam Figlesthaler

Republican Dr. William Figlesthaler is the top-funded candidate in the race for the House of Representatives in the 19th Congressional District.

This Naples-based urologist and first-time politician has the highest total of all candidates reporting their 2019 finances, with $536,295 in receipts.

However, of that amount the vast majority, $410,000, came in a loan to the campaign from the candidate. Otherwise, 37 other donors contributed to the campaign for both the primary and general elections in amounts starting at $3,000.

Virtually all donors are active or retired doctors or associated with the medical field. Additional donors are family members: his Russian-born wife Olga and relatives Karolina, Elizabeth and William Figlesthaler II. Figlesthaler also received $2,000 from the campaign committee of Rep. Greg Murphy (R-3-NC), a member of Congress and fellow urologist from North Carolina, where Figlesthaler did his residence.

Figlesthaler spent $29,541.35 in 2019. Most of that was spent on consultants for media and fundraising, a video and website development. However, he also came up with a unique and bizarre form of advertising: screens in the men’s urinals in Hertz Arena.

As men urinate on the red, white and blue-colored plastic screen at the bottom of the urinal, they can ask themselves the question printed on the screen: “Are you ready to drain the swamp?” and presumably somehow connect the Dr. Fig name on the screen to Figlesthaler.

The stunt certainly got Figlesthaler local TV air time and media coverage.

“Quite frankly, they’re pissed off,” Figlesthaler said of voters to NBC-2’s Dave Elias, who reported the urinal story on Jan. 20. “They’re tired of what’s going on in Washington.” And was this a good idea? “The mere fact we’re talking about it right now tells me it was probably a good idea,” he concluded.

Whether it changes anyone’s mind and convinces voters remains to be seen. It’s not clear whether there’s any equivalent promotion for the women’s lavatories, so essentially Figlesthaler ignored half the voting population.

Analysis

Politically, Figlesthaler is a straight out Trumper and undeviatingly follows the Trumpist line on all issues. He’s working off the 2016 angry voter meme and making the old “drain the swamp” slogan the centerpiece of his campaign—one now abandoned even by Trump. He’s anti-abortion. He plays up his lack of political experience or knowledge. The only local issue he addresses on his website is water purity—he’s all for it.

It appears that he was inspired or convinced by his fellow urologist Greg Murphy in North Carolina that with enough money a candidate with virtually no name recognition, legislative record or political experience could win a seat in Congress.

Given the amount of personal money he’s putting into his campaign and his array of media and political consultants Figlesthaler is running what should look to an outsider like a fairly professional campaign. Consultants include Anedot, Baton Rouge, La., for fundraising; Compliance Consulting, a global compliance firm; Landslyde Media Group, a single-person, Cape Coral-based consultancy; Southeastern Strategies, a marketing firm; and Lakeside Media, a video production company.

That said, there’s no indication that Figlesthaler has any field organization, volunteers or infrastructure or is making any effort in that direction.

Figlesthaler seems to have no knowledge or interest in local issues and he certainly has no established political base beyond his small circle of doctor friends and their spouses, who actually reside all over the state rather than in the District.

Given his medical background and medical-heavy donor base he could clearly weigh in on healthcare and medical issues. However, his website states only: “As a physician, I have served thousands of Southwest Florida patients. I have seen firsthand how government-controlled healthcare drives up costs and destroys patients’ quality of care. I will fight for a free market system that ensures competitive prices and quality of service.” In other words, he opposes the Affordable Care Act.

Figlesthaler’s is a shallow, highly ideological campaign focused on national themes and complete indifference to local issues. Also, his small donor list doesn’t indicate an enormous groundswell of grassroots support.

By most traditional measures, Figlesthaler would not be considered a serious candidate and this would simply be a vanity project. However, his initial personal investment and the resources at his command mean that he must be considered a contender. In this he is following the model of his idol, Donald Trump.

Such campaigns have succeeded in the 19th Congressional District before. However, if he wins, Figlesthaler seems set to join the parade of inexperienced, naïve Southwest Florida candidates who went to Washington and were disillusioned by the rigors and realities of legislating, ill-serving the interests of Southwest Florida.

Next: Dane Eagle

Liberty lives in light

©2020 by David Silverberg