The Donalds Dossier: Packing in the PAC cash for the midterms

Rep. Byron Donalds at CPAC on Feb. 25 of this year in Orlando. (Image: YouTube)

Sept. 13, 2022 by David Silverberg

“Folks, I like money,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) told a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) convention in Orlando on Feb. 25 of this year. “Can we be honest about this? I like money!”

Indeed, he does. And Donalds is very good at raising it. This year he entered his general election campaign with $4.8 million (or exactly $4,805,548.69) in receipts, according to the Federal Election Commission (FEC).

Donalds’ public fundraising appeals are insistent and incessant, stoking and exploiting fear and anxiety of Democrats, socialism, Dr. Anthony Fauci and all the ghosts, goblins and specters that keep extreme MAGA maniacs awake at night.

There’s no denying it—it works.

As of Aug. 8, $4 million ($4,036,842.37 to be exact) of Donalds’ contributions came from individuals and the efforts of Winred, a professional, conservative fundraising service.

But $325,302.41 came from a variety of political action committees (PACs) that are not so easily swayed by emotional appeals. These PACs represent a wide variety of industries, associations, corporations and fellow politicians. The biggest sectors contributing to Donalds’ primary and general election campaign are insurance, finance, banking and energy.

They are the organizations and businesses to which Donalds is beholden. Voters should be aware of the sources of this cash and its influence on his decisionmaking on Nov. 8 when they vote for him—or Democrat Cindy Banyai.

In 2021, after Donalds denied that he was influenced by his donors, The Paradise Progressive did a two-part analysis of his ideological and industry backers.

As the 2022 general election campaign season kicks into high gear, it’s time to take another look at Donalds’ corporate backers. These are the companies and industries whom he will be serving if returned to Congress in November.

Donalds sits on House committees and subcommittees that have a direct impact on these industries.

One is the House Oversight and Reform Committee where he sits on the Economic and Consumer Policy Subcommittee.

His other assignment is potentially even more impactful. On the House Small Business Committee, he sits on the Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations Subcommittee as well as the Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access Subcommittee.

These subcommittee assignments give him influence that attracts corporate contributions.

(Of note: none of the facts reported below allege illegality or criminality. They are activities reported to the FEC as required by campaign finance laws and regulations. All numbers are year-to-date figures as of Aug. 8.)

Big Insurance

The insurance industry is heavily regulated and generally unpopular in the public imagination (think of all those personal injury attorneys inveighing against greedy insurance companies in local television commercials).

Whether they agree with individual lawmakers’ policy positions or not, at the very least, it’s worth it to the insurance industry to invest in political campaigns to keep potential investigations and new regulations at bay.

Insurance-related PACs have been very good to Donalds, both trade associations and individual companies.

Over the past year, Donalds’ most generous contributor was the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC, which contributed $22,000 to his general election campaign.

That was followed by the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors PAC, which contributed $10,000 to his primary election campaign.

The Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America, Inc., PAC kicked in $8,500 to his general election campaign, while the American Council of Life Insurers PAC gave $2,500 to his primary campaign.

Individual insurance companies’ PACs contributed too:

  • The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. Federal PAC contributed $4,500 to his primary campaign.
  • Cigna Corp. PAC, which supported Donalds’ 2020 campaign, contributed $3,500 to his primary campaign this year.
  • New York Life Insurance Company PAC contributed $2,500 to his primary campaign.

Big finance

The financial industry is heavily affected by congressional actions, so Donalds received contributions from a variety of finance-related companies and trade associations:

Regions Financial Corporation PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $22,000 to his general election campaign.

ACPAC ACA International PAC (The Association of Credit and Collection Professionals) represents credit reporting and collection agencies. It contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $10,000 to his general election campaign.

The Credit Union Legislative Action Council PAC of the Credit Union National Association gave $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign and $7,500 to his general election campaign.

Navient Corp., provides education loan management and business processing solutions. Its PAC contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign. Perhaps not accidentally, Donalds was a ferocious critic of President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness program. A large part of Navient’s business is managing and collecting existing student loans.

The Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association PAC contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

When it comes to investment-related associations and companies, Donalds has the backing of LPL Financial LLC PAC. LPL is a registered investment advisory firm that contributed $5,000 to his primary campaign and $7,500 to his general campaign.

In terms of investor-related associations, the Small Business Investor Alliance PAC contributed $4,000 to his primary campaign and the American Investment Council PAC contributed $2,500. The latter represents private equity investors who invest in companies that don’t offer shares on public stock exchanges. The move to private equity has been blamed by critics for looting otherwise healthy companies and harming workers.

Big Banking

Among banks, Community Bancshares of Mississippi Inc., PAC is the only individual bank PAC to contribute to Donalds, donating $3,000 to his primary campaign. Claiming to be one of the fastest growing banks in the southern United States, Community Bancshares, formerly Farmers and Merchants Bank, based in Brandon, Miss., claims $4.5 billion in assets, 54 offices, and over 850 personnel in four states.

While that may be the only individual contributing bank, that doesn’t mean the banking industry has overlooked Donalds.

The American Bankers Association PAC has been a particularly enthusiastic backer, kicking in $17,500 for the general election campaign.

Also contributing to the general election campaign was the Mortgage Bankers Association PAC, which contributed $10,000.

Another banking-related contributor was the Independent Community Bankers of America PAC, which contributed $3,000 to the primary campaign.

Big energy

Donalds doesn’t discriminate between money from fossil fuel and electric power companies—he takes money from both.

Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC contributed the largest allowable amount to Donalds’ general election campaign: $7,500.

Another fossil fuel and energy company, Valero Energy Corp. PAC, based in San Antonio, Texas, gave the next largest amount among the energy companies: $5,000 for Donalds’ primary campaign.

Nextera Energy Inc., claims to be the world’s largest utility company. Its PAC contributed $2,500 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

Duke Energy is an electric power and natural gas holding company headquartered in Charlotte, NC. Its PAC contributed $2,000 to Donalds’ primary campaign.

The PAC of the Tampa Electric Company (TECO) Energy Inc., Employees’ PAC, contributed $1,000 to Donalds’ primary election campaign.

All these were the PACs of individual companies. But in the energy sector, Donalds did receive a contribution from a single trade association: the Solar Energy Industries Association PAC contributed $1,000 to his primary campaign.

Big tobacco

Two major tobacco PACs contributed to Donalds’ campaigns:

The Swisher International Inc., PAC Fund is the PAC of Swisher International Inc., a tobacco company based in Jacksonville, Fla. Swisher has been in business since 1861 and according to its website, ships more than two billion cigars a year to more than 70 countries.

Altria Group, Inc. PAC is the PAC of one of the world’s largest producers and marketers of tobacco, cigarettes and related products. Altria companies include Philip Morris, US Smokeless Tobacco Co., and John Middleton, a producer of pipe and cigar tobacco.

Other PACs of note

In addition to these industries, some additional contributors stand out.

  • Koch Industries, Inc., PAC contributed $5,000 to the primary campaign. This is the company of the well-known and extremely conservative Koch brothers.
  • Florida Sugar Cane League PAC contributed $3,500 to the primary campaign. The sugar industry has been criticized for allegedly polluting Lake Okeechobee, a criticism sugar companies reject.
  • Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates PAC contributed $1,000 to the primary campaign. (More about Publix’s political activities can be read here: “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”)

A full list of Donalds’ PAC contributors can be seen on the FEC website and accessed here.

Liberty lives in light

©2022 by David Silverberg

Help defend democracy in Southwest Florida—donate here!

The Donalds Dossier: PACs and the race for re-election

Part 2: A deep dive into the PACs behind Rep. Byron Donalds

Rep. Byron Donalds speaks while Rep. Steve Scalise looks on. (Photo: Office of Rep. Donalds)

June 23, 2021 by David Silverberg

“The PACs didn’t get me elected,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) said during a March 30 interview at Alfie Oakes’ Seed to Table market.

That statement is not true; political action committees (PACs) were very heavily involved in getting Donalds elected in 2020, as demonstrated in Part 1 of this deep dive into Donalds’ PAC support. Ideological super PACs played an especially big role in his 2020 primary victory.

What is more, they and other PACs are already making contributions to his 2022 re-election campaign—and by so doing shaping the nature of the midterm election as conducted in Southwest Florida’s 19th Congressional District, the coastal area from Cape Coral to Marco Island.

Some of Donalds’ 2022 PAC contributors were contributors in 2020. Their contributions bear scrutiny because they both illuminate Donalds’ corporate and ideological backing and explain his policy positions even if he himself said that he ignores the concerns of his PAC backers.

Nonetheless, some of the PAC contributions stand out in different ways.

The PAC spending reported in this article was, to the best of this author’s ability to determine, legal and compliant with existing law. This article is based on public information. No criminality or impropriety is alleged or implied. The full 2021-22 PAC list can be seen and downloaded on the Federal Election Commission (FEC) website.

Water, oil and Scalise

Politicians form their own PACs and donate to each other’s campaigns. This helps build bonds and relationships that serve them well once they’re elected. These networks help them pass legislation or advance in the party leadership ranks.

These kinds of donations were especially important during Donalds’ 2020 primary campaign when he was in a tight and uncertain race against well-funded opponents.

One primary contributor of particular significance was Rep. Steve Scalise (R-1-La.).

Scalise was significant on a number of levels: He was (and remains) House Minority Whip, the second highest leadership position in the Republican caucus. A contribution from him was a vote of confidence and a boost from the official Republican House establishment.

But Scalise had a particular connection to Southwest Florida. During Francis Rooney’s 2016 to 2020 service in Congress, Scalise posed a particular obstacle to Rooney’s efforts to prevent oil exploration and exploitation off Florida’s Gulf shore. Like the Paradise Coast, Scalise’s Louisiana district is dominated by shoreline and wetlands—but unlike Florida, it is home to an extensive offshore oil exploration and exploitation industry.

This has led Scalise to be such a spokesman for the oil industry that one trade publication was led to ask if he was the “oil industry’s best friend in Congress.”

It also led to a memorable exchange between Rooney and Scalise when they were on the House floor together and Scalise told Rooney that the oil industry would object to his efforts to keep the eastern Gulf off-limits to exploration. In an address to a private group at the Alamo gun range and store in Naples on May 30, 2018, Rooney related what happened next:

“I was on the House floor with Steve Scalise and I got in his face and I said, ‘You’re telling me that the industry won’t go for protecting the Eastern Gulf in Florida?  What industry are you talking about?  I’m talking about tourism. I’m talking about why we’re all here, okay? Just because Louisiana is a pit, doesn’t mean we want to become a pit. Okay?’” 

In the 116th Congress, neither man got what he wanted: Scalise never opened the eastern Gulf and Rooney never closed it.

But Rooney retired in 2020 and Scalise stayed in Congress—and got another shot with Byron Donalds.

That second shot came in the form of two Scalise-related committees contributing to Donalds’ primary campaign: Scalise for Congress and his Eye of the Tiger PAC. In 2020, Scalise for Congress contributed $4,000 to Donalds so he could retire some of his primary election campaign debt and Eye of the Tiger PAC contributed $10,000.

The issue of oil drilling in the eastern Gulf is now largely moot. President Joe Biden campaigned against new offshore drilling and implemented that promise through an executive order issued a week after he took office. He even stopped the sale of oil leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that President Donald Trump had permitted. Even Trump retreated from Gulf oil exploitation during the election campaign, issuing an executive order on Sept. 8, 2020 putting Florida waters off limits for 10 years.

So the issue of eastern Gulf oil exploitation is off the table for the moment and will likely stay that way for the rest of Biden’s term and possibly beyond.

But that has not dampened Scalise’s support for Donalds. Already in the first quarter of 2021 Scalise for Congress contributed $2,000 to Donalds’ re-election campaign and Eye of the Tiger PAC contributed $5,000.

Those totals will undoubtedly rise in the days leading to the mid-term election, intended to buy Donalds’ loyalty both to the oil industry and to Scalise personally.

Big sugar

The sugar industry, or “big sugar” as it’s widely known in Southwest Florida, has vital interests in federal actions. Its cane fields are in the Everglades Agricultural Area south of Lake Okeechobee, and much of the harvest is processed there. Issues of pollution, runoff and water management are fundamental to its operations—and the source of considerable environmental criticism.

Management of Lake Okeechobee falls to the US Army Corps of Engineers and there is constant debate and contention regarding water quality and responsibility for maintaining it. This deeply affects not only the Everglades, which protect the inhabited areas of the Paradise Coast and the 19th Congressional District and affects the area’s supply of drinking water. It also determines pollution and algae levels in the Caloosahatchee River that runs through Fort Myers and past Cape Coral. On the cleanliness of these waters rests its tourism industry and the health of everyone living along the river and the Gulf. (To the east it also similarly affects the communities along the St. Lucie River.)

In 2020, Donalds received $5,000 each from the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the United States Sugar Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan PAC.

For the 2022 election, Donalds has already received $5,000 for his primary race from the American Crystal Sugar Company PAC.

This year a new sugar donor entered the fray: the sugar industry’s American Sugar Cane League PAC, consisting largely of sugar cane farmers, which has contributed $1,000 to his primary race.

In an effort to show concern for water purity efforts, Donalds has been making visits to Lake O and attending various briefings, providing photo ops.

A different kind of insurance

The insurance industry is investing extensively in Donalds. As a heavily regulated industry with numerous interests in a wide variety of legislation and regulation, insurance companies and lobbies have long been very active politically, donating to a wide variety of lawmakers at all levels and in all states. In the 2020 election the industry spent $152 million to influence legislation, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Donalds sits on House subcommittees that have a direct impact on insurance issues. One is the House Oversight and Reform Committee where he sits on the economic and consumer policy subcommittee. But his other assignment may have even more of an insurance industry impact. On the House Small Business Committee, he sits on the Economic Growth, Tax, and Capital Access Subcommittee, and the Oversight, Investigations, and Regulations Subcommittee—and the key word in that title is “regulations.” Also, he has been a vocal and vociferous opponent of the Affordable Care Act

It explains the insurance industry PAC investment in his campaign.

  • CIGNA Corporation Political Action Committee: $1,000

Cigna Corp. is a major health insurance provider. It was ranked the 13th largest US corporation in the 2020 Fortune 500 list by total revenue, which was estimated to be $38.5 billion that year.

Insurance trade PACS include:

  • Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. Political Action Committee: $5,000
  • National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies PAC: $1,000
  • The Council of Insurance Agents & Brokers Political Action Committee: $1,000

Prepping for 2022

Other PACs contributing to Donalds in 2021 are, in addition to those already mentioned:

Ideological PACs

Founded in 1994, this PAC states on its website it is “on a mission to expose the Liberal Lies [sic] to minority voters all across America. With your help, Black America’s PAC will reclaim Black voters to the Republican Party by electing minority Republicans to national office and destroying the Liberal Lies that keep minorities voting for Democrats who do NOT share their values.”

The PAC was founded and is headed by Alvin Williams who worked on the George H.W. Bush campaign in 1987. He later worked at the Republican National Committee and advised candidates on African-American issues for a variety of campaigns.

In the 2020 election, this PAC contributed $1,500 to Donalds’ campaign.

This is an ideological PAC that attempts to elect conservative Republicans. This is the first time it has contributed to a Donalds campaign.

Other politicians

  • Building America’s Republican Representation PAC: $2,500

This is a PAC affiliated with Rep. Andy Barr (R-6-Ky.)

  • Building Leadership and Inspiring New Enterprise PAC: $2,000

This is a PAC affiliated with Rep. Blaine Leutkemeyer (R-3-Mo.). Leutkemeyer, like Donalds, voted to decertify the results of the 2020 election.

  • Jason Smith for Congress: $2,000

This is a committee affiliated with Rep. Jason Smith (R-8-Mo.). Smith is the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, on which Donalds serves. Like Donalds, Smith voted to decertify the 2020 election. Of particular note, while on the House floor on Jan. 17, 2019, when Rep. Tony Cardenas (D-29-Calif.) was presiding, Smith shouted “Go back to Puerto Rico!” at House Democratic members.

Corporate PACs

  • CGCN PAC: $1,000

This is the PAC of CGCN Group, a conservative Washington, DC-based lobbying firm that provides “outreach to key policymakers,” gathers “strategic intelligence” and offers “a full suite of tools for media and grassroots communication to influence the policies that affect our clients.” One indication of its orientation: Most recently it made Peter Ventimiglia a partner after he worked seven years at Koch Industries where he was a primary architect of its communications strategy.

  • JM Family Enterprises, Inc. PAC: $1,000

JM Family Enterprises is a diversified automotive company. As its website puts it: “Our principal businesses focus on vehicle distribution and processing, finance and insurance and retail vehicle sales.” The company was launched in 1968 when the founder, Jim Moran, became Toyota distributor in five southeastern US states, including Florida. Its PAC contributed to Donalds’ 2020 campaign.

  • National Association of Realtors Political Action Committee: $1,000

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg

The Donalds Dossier: A deep dive into the PAC pool

Part 1: A look at the super and corporate PACs that elected Rep. Byron Donalds

Tim Ritchie (left) and other central Florida environmental activists protest the dangers of Mosaic mining “stacks” during a demonstration on May 7, 2019 at Florida Gulf Coast University. The Mosaic PAC was one of the contributors to Rep. Byron Donalds’ 2020 election campaign. (Photo: Author)

120 days Byron Donalds has been in office

May 3, 2021 by David Silverberg

“The PACs didn’t get me elected,” Rep. Byron Donalds (R-19-Fla.) said during a March 30 interview at Alfie Oakes’ Seed to Table market.

Rep. Byron Donalds

The remark invites much closer examination because Donalds was perhaps the candidate most dependent on political action committees (PACs) ever to run for federal office in Southwest Florida. And while PACs may not have cast votes themselves, their money made all the difference. This was certainly true in his primary race when he faced eight other Republican candidates, some of them better known and far better funded.

Further, an examination of Donalds’ PAC backing in the 2020 election cycle illuminates the positions he has taken on various issues and his priorities as a member of Congress.

A quick PAC primer

Anyone can form or join a PAC. At their most fundamental level, PACs are simply organizations of people who pool their money to support and contribute to candidates and political causes. However, they are independent of individual candidates’ election committees or political party organizations. They register with the Federal Election Commission (FEC) and record their donations and expenditures according to its procedures.

PAC spending is legal and proper when done within the framework of federal campaign finance regulations. It is done under the oversight of the FEC and the filings are publicly available. This is a result of reforms enacted after the 1974 Watergate affair, when large sums of unknown provenance were used for illicit reasons.

PACs are not allowed to demand or request specific actions by a public official in return for specific contributions. Their spending is broader and more generalized.

The PAC contributions to Donalds’ campaign can be broken down into different categories: super PACs; corporate PACs from individual companies; trade and professional association PACs; leadership and candidate PACs from sitting officials or other candidates; party PACs from the Republican Party; and ideological PACs promoting a political position, in this case conservatism in general.

This article will examine super PAC and corporate PAC spending to elect Donalds. A future article will look at leadership, trade and ideological PACs.

The PAC spending reported in this article was based on public information and, to the best of this author’s ability to determine, was legal and compliant with existing law. No criminality or impropriety is alleged or implied.

Super PACs

Ever since the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United vs. FEC decision, “super PACs” have been allowed to spend unlimited funds on issues rather than for the benefit of specific candidates. These super PACs are not allowed to coordinate their activities with candidate campaigns and must make their decisions independently.

That said, super PAC spending can considerably benefit a candidate and that was certainly the case with Donalds.

According to OpenSecrets.org, which tracks political spending based on FEC filings, Donalds benefitted from $1,153,991 in independent spending by conservative, ideologically-driven super PACs.

Of these the two most active were Club for Growth Action, which spent $1,383,647, and Americans for Prosperity Action, which spent $203,613 to indirectly benefit Donalds.

Both super PACs focused on conservative issues that benefited Donalds, particularly in the hotly contested primary contest when he was up against much better funded candidates.

While these were the most generous super PACs, some others worthy of note are the National Rifle Association ($4,451) and the NRA Institute for Legislative Action ($1,184), which advocate against gun restrictions, and the National Right to Life Victory Fund ($3,396), which opposes abortions.

Other super PACs indirectly contributing to Donalds’ election were, in descending order of contribution:

  • Honesty America Inc: $138,131
  • Concerned Conservatives Inc: $85,706
  • Protect Freedom PAC: $80,187
  • Trusted Conservatives: $46,138
  • American Liberty Fund: $37,553
  • New Journey PAC: $32,230
  • Conservative Outsider PAC: $17,769
  • Club for Growth: $9,272
  • Guardian Fund: $6,941
  • Friends of Mia Love PAC: $6,045
  • FreedomWorks for America: $2,500
  • House Freedom Fund: $1,486

Corporate PACs

According to the FEC, the Donalds campaign received donations from 39 corporate PACs directly to the campaign and so were subject to campaign finance limits.

Corporate PAC contributions are usually made with the intention of advancing business agendas, shaping regulation or legislation and ensuring access to a lawmaker.

These PACs can be grouped into subcategories.

Big sugar

The American Crystal Sugar Company PAC and the United States Sugar Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan PAC each contributed $5,000 to Donalds’ 2020 campaign.

Florida sugar companies have in the past worked to ensure continuation of sugar subsidies, ward off foreign competition and oppose labor and environmental regulations that could complicate or add cost to their operations.

Big oil

Exxon Mobil Corporation (Exxonmobil PAC) and Marathon Petroleum Corporation Employees PAC (MPAC) contributed $1,500 and $2,500 respectively to the Donalds campaign.

With potential reserves of oil in Florida beneath both public and private land as well as possible deposits offshore, Florida has long been of interest to oil companies. Environmental groups and organizations have opposed this exploration and exploitation because of its potential harm to the natural environment of Southwest Florida, especially the Everglades.

There is new legislation in the current Congress to prevent offshore oil exploration. While Donalds’ predecessor, Francis Rooney, was a leader in opposition to offshore oil exploitation, Donalds has followed the lead of Rep. Kathy Castor (D-14-Fla.) and Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-16-Fla.) who introduced the Florida Coastal Protection Act (House Resolution 2836) on April 26. (For past coverage of this issue see: “Trump, Biden and Florida’s Gulf shore oil war.”)

Big mining

The Donalds campaign received $1,000 from The Mosaic Company PAC (MOSAICPAC).

The Mosaic Company is a phosphate and potash mining company headquartered in Tampa. Its mining products are used extensively for agricultural fertilizer throughout Florida and the world.

This April, headlines appeared in Southwest Florida warning that a retention pond or “stack” full of contaminated water from mining operations was threatening to burst and flood the surrounding area at Piney Point, Fla., near Tampa. Engineers began frantically pumping millions of gallons of polluted water into Tampa Bay. This raised fears that pollution would lead to a severe red tide this summer and drift down to the Paradise Coast.

The stack was created by Mosaic’s mining operations, which had ceased at Piney Point in 2001, leaving the wastewater to sit in the stack.

While this year’s crisis has been declared over and the leaking stopped, it was not the first such leak from a Mosaic mining operation. The company successfully contained a 2019 leak but a 2016 sinkhole from mining operations threatened to pollute the Florida underground aquifer on which the population of the state depends for its drinking and irrigation water.

Big tobacco

Reynolds American Inc. PAC (RAI PAC) contributed $1,000 to the Donalds campaign. Reynolds American is an indirect, wholly owned subsidiary of British American Tobacco PLC and produces the Lucky Strike, Pall Mall, Newport, Camel, and American Spirit cigarette brands as well as Grizzly chewing tobacco, Vuse vapor products and Velo nicotine lozenges and pouches. Along with other tobacco products, its mentholated tobacco products may soon be banned by the federal government.

Other notable corporate PACs

Koch Industries, Inc. PAC (KOCHPAC) contributed $5,000 to the Donalds campaign during the 2020 election cycle. These are the companies owned by the well-known Koch brothers, Charles and David (who died in 2019). They funded a wide variety of extreme ideological causes and organizations.

(Two excellent books that delve into the Koch brothers’ activities and past are Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America’s Most Powerful and Private Dynasty by Daniel Schulman and Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer.)

Bloomin’ Brands, Inc. PAC contributed $5,000 to the Donalds campaign. Bloomin’ Brands is the company behind such well-known Southwest Florida restaurant franchises as Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar and Outback Steakhouse.

Publix Super Markets, Inc. Associates PAC, contributed $5,000, the most it gave to any Southwest Florida candidate. The Publix political role in Florida was covered in depth in The Paradise Progressive article “Publix: Where politics bring no pleasure.”

Other corporate PACs were, in descending order of contribution (the FEC lists some twice):

  • National Association Of Realtors PAC: $10,000
  • National Automobile Dealers Association PAC: $10,000
  • Nextera Energy, Inc. PAC: $8,000
  • American Bankers Association Pac (BANKPAC): $5,000
  • Deloitte PAC: $5,000
  • Nextera Energy, Inc. PAC: $5,000
  • The Geo Group, Inc. PAC: $5,000
  • AFLAC PAC: $3,500
  • LPL Financial LLC PAC: $3,500
  • AT&T Inc./Warnermedia LLC Federal PAC (AT&T/WARNERMEDIA FEDERAL PAC): $3,000
  • KPMG Partners/Principals And Employees PAC: $3,000
  • AFLAC PAC (AFLAC PAC): $2,500
  • American Bankers Association PAC (BANKPAC): $2,500
  • Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. PAC (ABC PAC): $2,500
  • Chubb Group Holdings Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Comcast Corporation & NBCUniversal PAC – Federal: $2,500
  • JM Family Enterprises, Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Regions Financial Corporation PAC: $2,500
  • United Parcel Service Inc. PAC: $2,500
  • Wells Fargo and Company Employee PAC (also known as Wells Fargo Employee PAC): $2,500
  • PriceWaterhouseCoopers PAC I: $2,000
  • Protective Life Corporation Federal PAC (PROTECTPAC): $2,000
  • The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Action Committee for Rural Electrification: $1,500
  • Akerman LLP PAC: $1,000
  • Discover Financial Services PAC: $1,000
  • Grayrobinson P.A. PAC: $1,000
  • Jackson Holdings LLC and Jackson National Life Insurance Company Separate Segregated Fund: $1,000
  • Liberty Mutual Insurance Company – PAC: $1,000
  • Marsh & McLennan Companies, Inc. PAC (MMCPAC): $1,000
  • Protective Life Corporation Federal PAC (PROTECTPAC): $1,000
  • Rock Holdings Inc. PAC: $1,000
  • Teco Energy Inc. Employees’ PAC: $1,000

Analysis: Chicken or egg?

As is clear from the listings above, PACs played a major role in Byron Donalds’ election.

Donalds is an intensely ideological representative of the extreme right, so it’s hard to say to what degree PAC contributions shaped his public positions or to what degree his public positions attracted PAC contributions. It’s a chicken-and-egg question.

What is clear is that super PAC spending made him competitive in the primary but once he was the nominee and widely regarded as likely to win the general election, the corporate PACs jumped in, trying to ride on a candidate bandwagon they regarded as a sure bet. At that point their contributions were less important for fueling his campaign and more important for ensuring that their lobbyists would have a foot in the door of his congressional office—and that he would listen.

Certainly, Donalds’ disinterest in the 19th District’s local water and environmental issues, which was quite striking during his campaign, fit in well with the corporate interests of the sugar, mining and oil PACs, whose companies have caused pollution, destruction and despoliation in the past and may do so again in the future. That said, his cosponsorship of HR 2836 is commendable.

Nonetheless, while Donalds has taken some cosmetic actions toward showing attention to vital, local environmental issues, they have mostly been superficial and shallow, chiefly photo ops and grip-and-grins. As importantly, he has vocally and consistently opposed the relief bills that would speed distribution of vaccines to the people of the 19th District, provide them with financial relief amidst pandemic-related hardships, stimulate the local economy and improve the area’s infrastructure.

To date, the corporate and super PACs have largely gotten what they paid for: a member of Congress who has loudly championed commercial and ideological interests in pursuit of his own ambitions while overlooking local environmental and public health concerns—all while claiming his PAC donors have no effect on his thoughts, statements or actions.

554 days (1 year, 6 months, 5 days) to Election Day.

To come: The trade, leadership and ideological PACs behind Rep. Byron Donalds

The Paradise Progressive will be on hiatus until May 13.

Liberty lives in light

© 2021 by David Silverberg