Self-Funders Fight for Florida’s 18th District

Democrats and Republicans spend their own money ahead of Aug. 30 primary

Randy Perkins, a Democratic candidate in Florida's 18th District, has put more than $3 million of his own money into his campaign. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Randy Perkins, a Democratic candidate in Florida's 18th District, has put more than $3 million of his own money into his campaign. (Al Drago/CQ Roll Call File Photo)
Posted August 23, 2016 at 5:00am

As self-funding Florida candidates go, there are those who loan their campaigns $100,000.

And some who loan their campaigns $1.6 million.

And even one who’s ponied up — through a combination of donations and loans — more than $3 million of his own money.

Self-funders of varying degrees are running in the Democratic and Republican primaries for the open seat in the 18th District along Florida’s Treasure Coast.

The winners of the Aug. 30 primaries will go a long way toward determining who will carry this swing seat, which Democratic Rep. Patrick Murphy is vacating to run for the Senate. 

The Democrats

The biggest self-funder is Democrat Randy Perkins, who has said he’s prepared to spend $5 million of his own money. He spent nearly as much as the six GOP candidates combined during the pre-primary reporting period and seven times what his Democratic opponent, Jonathan Chane, spent.

Both Perkins and Chane had their dirty laundry publicly aired recently when a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee memo was leaked as part of the cyber hack into the House Democrats’ campaign arm.

[Leaked DCCC Memo Offers Window into Committee’s Candidate Research]

The memo identified Perkins’ past contributions to Republicans, and the fact that he only recently registered as a Democrat, as among his major vulnerabilities in the primary.

But Perkins is the DCCC’s pick (he alone in this district is on the committee’s Red to Blue list), and the group cites his previous ties to GOP politicians as a general election boon.

“His contribution and work history show his willingness to work with Democrats and Republicans to bridge the partisan divide in Congress,” states the memo, which was leaked on Aug. 12.

[Now a Democrat, Once a Republican?]

Perkins’ general election vulnerabilities stem from the business dealings of his disaster recovery business, which has been accused of doing “substandard work” and cheating the Broward County School Board out of nearly $1 million.

Republicans took notice of that research and will be ready to hit Perkins on his business dealings if he’s the nominee.

But they’d rather run against Chane, who has significantly fewer resources.

Chane has loaned his campaign $133,000 but he ended the pre-primary reporting period (July 1 through Aug. 10) with just $96,000 in cash on hand compared to Perkins’ $743,000.

The DCCC memo provides opposition ammo on Chane, too. His work as a foreclosure attorney involved suing “dozens of Palm Beach residents, and forcing them out of their homes.”

The GOP field 

The Republican field is much more crowded. Of the six candidates, none has broken through. But because of money, connections and personal stories, three candidates have risen to the top.

The big self-funder on the GOP side is Boca Raton physician Mark Freeman, who’s loaned his campaign $1.6 million. He finished the pre-primary period with just under $252,000 in the bank.

In October, the first-time candidate got in trouble for accepting a $200,000 check from a friend. His campaign said at the time that it was not aware of FEC contribution limits.

And then there were his comments on race from this earlier this year. Freeman accused President Barack Obama of giving blacks “free stuff.”

Freeman made it to the lowest level of the NRCC’s “Young Guns” program for its competitive candidates, but given his racial remarks, establishment Republicans would rather not have him as the nominee. 

Brian Mast is the candidate with the compelling story. Also on the lowest level of Young Guns, Mast served in the Joint Operations Special Command and lost both legs in an IED explosion in Afghanistan. The Army veteran received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

He’s also been endorsed by Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke and Oklahoma Rep. Steve Russell, among others.

Although Mast has receiving financial backing from a few pro-Israel PACs and has the support of Iowa Sen. Joni Ernst, Texas Rep. Pete Sessions and former Wyoming Sen. Alan Simpson, he doesn’t have the ability to self-fund. He ended the pre-primary reporting period with $175,000.

Rebecca Negron is the only one of the bunch to have met the NRCC’s fundraising requirements to be on the second-highest tier of its Young Guns program — a level above her rival candidates. She represents one of the GOP’s few chances to send a woman to the House as part of the freshman class next year.

Republican women’s groups like Maggie’s List, VIEW PAC and the Susan B. Anthony List have contributed to her candidacy, as have Reps. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina and Martha Roby of Alabama.

[Will Republicans Have Fewer Women in the House Next Year?]

Negron is married to the Florida state Senate president, which has boosted her name recognition. A registered nurse, she’s served on the Martin County School Board since 2012. She’s only contributed $2,700 to her campaign and ended the pre-primary period with $248,000.

Investment manager Carl Domino has personal wealth to self-fund. That’s what he did in 2014, when he was the GOP nominee up against Murphy. But he lost that race by nearly 20 points despite loaning his campaign $1.2 million. 

This season, Domino has loaned his campaign $458,000 so far, ending the pre-primary reporting period with about $162,000 in cash on hand.

Domino’s previous unsuccessful run for Congress hasn’t inspired much confidence, so it’s Freeman, Negron and Mast whom Republicans have their eyes on in this primary. Other GOP candidates include attorney Rick Kozell and party strategist Noelle Nikpour.

The Democratic and Republican winners will face off in a district that’s swung between the parties at the presidential level: Mitt Romney carried it by 4 points in 2012; Obama carried the district under its present boundaries by the same margin in 2008.