Political committees boost campaigns in Jacksonville races

Several candidates for Jacksonville’s top elected offices are using political committees as a way to bolster their campaign war chests, collecting thousands of dollars from area donors and companies.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Several candidates for Jacksonville’s top elected offices are using political committees as a way to bolster their campaign war chests, collecting thousands of dollars from area donors and companies.

Under Florida law, no contributor can give more than $1,000 per election to the campaign for a candidate for local office. Since the primary and general elections are counted separately, that makes for an eventual total of $2,000 per contributor. However, political committees, registered with either the local supervisor of elections or the state Division of Elections, are not subject to these contribution limits.

Among the filed candidates for mayor, Republican LeAnna Cumber has raised the most through a political committee. Her committee, JAX First, has brought in more than $2.1 million since it was formed in the fall of 2021. Cumber and her husband Husein each contributed $100,000 to the committee. One of the largest contributors to the committee is Florida East Coast Industries, where Husein Cumber is the chief strategy officer. The company has given $125,000 to the committee.

LeAnna Cumber announces run for Jacksonville mayor (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

JAX First has also received $125,000 from New Fortress Energy, a company specializing in liquified natural gas. Other top contributors include former Haskell Company chairman and CEO Steven Halverson, who has given $75,000, and two other political committees, Floridians for Economic Advancement and Florida Conservatives United, which gave $80,000 and $70,000, respectively.

Democrat Donna Deegan formed a political committee, Donna For Duval, in the summer of 2021, ramping up speculation of her mayoral run. Deegan formally announced her campaign in November. Her committee has raised $292,798 since it was formed. Her top donor is philanthropist and former Jaguars co-owner Delores Barr Weaver, who has given $24,000. Six other individuals have contributed $10,000 each, as has one company, Blue Monarch Holdings.

Mayoral candidate Donna Deegan (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

The remaining filed mayoral candidate with a political committee is Republican Al Ferraro. His committee, Keep It Real Jax, has raised $74,430.62, all-time. The largest contribution came in late March, when Andrew Mayer, president of Murphy Pipeline Contractors, gave $25,000.

Another political committee that could play a role in the mayoral election has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from individuals and companies who are prominent in Jacksonville’s business community. Building a Better Economy PC, a committee controlled by Republican Daniel Davis, has raised nearly $4.3 million since it was formed in 2013, with much of that money coming in since January of 2021. Davis has not announced he is running for mayor, but he has been rumored as a candidate.

Topping the list of contributors to Building a Better Economy PC is JB Coxwell Contracting, which has given $165,000 in all to the committee. Retired Acosta Sales & Marketing executive Gary Chartrand gave $120,000 to the committee. The committee has brought in $100,000 each from Tom Petway and John Baker, and two companies, construction business Gunner/Houston Ltd. and First Coast Energy, LLP, the owner of Daily’s gas stations. Petway’s son, Ty Petway, gave $50,000 to the committee.

Three companies have each given $75,000 to Davis’ committee: Gate Petroleum, Miller Electric, and Summit Contracting Group. The committee also received $75,000 in contributions from another committee, Watchdog PAC.

Jacksonville Mayoral Candidate Al Ferraro (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)

In the race for sheriff, two candidates are being supported by the fundraising efforts of political committees, with some overlap in donors from the sheriff’s race. Democrat Lakesha Burton’s committee Make Every Voice Count has brought in $675,250, and Republican T.K. Waters’ committee, A Safer Jacksonville for All, has raised $685,900.

Among the contributors to Make Every Voice Count are four people who have given $100,000 each: Gary Chartrand, former CSX executive Michael Ward, former Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver, and Brightway Insurance co-founder David Miller. Also among the top contributors to Burton’s committee is developer Ed Burr, who gave $50,000. Like Chartrand, Burr was also a contributor to Building a Better Economy PC, where he gave $77,500.

The top contributors to A Safer Jacksonville for All had also given to Daniel Davis’ committee. Gunner/Houston, Ltd. gave $100,000 to the committee supporting Waters for sheriff. First Coast Energy and J.B. Coxwell gave $50,000 each, as did Tom and Ty Petway.

The first election for mayor, sheriff, and other city of Jacksonville offices will be March 21, 2023. Under Jacksonville’s unitary elections system, all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, appear together on one ballot, for all voters eligible to vote for that office. If no candidate in a race gets more than 50% of the vote, then the top two candidates, regardless of party, will advance to the general election on May 16, 2023.

Candidates for Jacksonville Sheriff, Lakesha Burton and T.K. Waters (Copyright 2022 by WJXT News4Jax - All rights reserved.)