The U.S. Senate race between incumbent Republican Marco Rubio and Democratic challenger and U.S. Rep. Val Demings is one of the most closely watched in the country.
It’s also one of the most expensive.
The two candidates have brought in $84 million, the third most out of all U.S. Senate races. Demings, Orlando’s former police chief, has outraised Rubio $48 million to $36 million, but their fundraising totals aren’t the only ways their campaign accounts are different. (The campaign finance figures and data cited is accurate as of Sept. 2.)
Over $26 million of Demings’ campaign funds, or 56% of her total, have come from individual contributions under $200 from individuals, according to an analysis conducted by Open Secrets, a non-profit organization that tracks campaign finance and lobbying. Her total with that type of contribution is the sixth highest out of all congressional candidates, and narrowly edges out U.S. Sen. Bernie Sander’s, who relied heavily on small-dollar donations to fuel both his presidential runs and past Senate reelection campaigns.
Of the large donations she received, most of them were from out-of-state donors, with her campaign receiving a total of $14.6 million or about 69% of the donations she got of that type. Elizabeth Gregory, communications director for Rubio’s campaign, attacked Demings for receiving so much money from Democrats nationwide. "Val Demings is bought and paid for by liberal donors from blue states because they know she votes with Nancy Pelosi 100% of the time and would do the same in the Senate. Demings has proven over and over again that she'll support the Democrats' radical agenda over the interests of Floridians," Gregory says.
But Rubio also has a large percent of his large-dollar donations from out of state, almost 60%. Large-dollar donations also are his campaign’s bread and butter, making up about 50% of contributions to his campaign account. The senator also got more cash from Political Action Committees than Demings, receiving $1.4 million from PACs to his campaign account, compared to her $730,000. He has also benefited from over $1.8 million being spent against her from a PAC aligned with him since last election cycle.
The PAC, Florida First Project, has received hundreds of thousands from political committees aligned with Florida’s sugar industry, who throw money into many Florida races, including the most recent Democratic gubernatorial primary. The PAC also has hundreds of thousands from companies standing to gain from legislation Rubio is currently championing that would increase the housing market in the U.S.
Their campaign account totals are leading across several industries
Both candidates are among the top fundraisers with those working in industries or for advocacy groups their respective parties hold opposite perspectives about, according to analysis by Open Secrets.
Demings has the most money out of any congressional candidate this election cycle from individuals working in education, taking in over $825,000 into her campaign account. She also ranked first in money from gun control advocacy groups and advocates combined, bringing in over $70,000. The representative backed gun control legislation in committee and on the House floor earlier this year. Rubio has opposed the gun control legislation that Demings supported.
Demings has also brought in a large chunk of money from people working in women’s issues organizations, groups that promote the rights of women through policy issues like abortion access and equal pay. She collected over $700,000 from those individuals, the fourth highest among Senate candidates. Rubio scored the third most of all congressional candidates from those working for anti-abortion groups, taking in $13,000.
Rubio is leading all candidates in money from people employed in industries that are privatizing contemporarily public institutions. He has almost $50,000 from those employed in for-profit correctional facility construction and management. He’s also gotten over $20,000 from those working in for-profit education.
The senator also leads in contributions from homebuilders, bringing in over $70,000 from people in the industry. He also has the fifth-most among Senate candidates from those working in real estate, bringing in over $700,000. Currently, Rubio is one of the sponsors on the bipartisan HELPER act, which would provide a one-time use home loan program to law enforcement officers, firefighters, medical first responders and teachers provided at a 3.6% premium fee to the federal government without requiring a down payment. The program could add millions of potential homebuyers to the market if passed.
Rubio’s PAC on the offensive (and brings in big donations)
The largest donations to support Rubio’s campaign did not go to his campaign account or a Victory PAC, but another PAC that has been associated with him that has spent most of its money attacking Demings this election cycle. The Florida First Project, a single-candidate super PAC, a PAC that is technically independent of a candidate’s campaign but works to only further their interests, supporting Rubio, has spent over $1.8 million opposing Demings so far. The almost $2.3 million the PAC has secured so far has been through 59 total contributions, averaging almost $40,000 per donation. One group that makes up a large chunk of contributors to the PAC are real estate or homebuilding companies, the same industries that Rubio’s HELPER act would support.
Lennar Corp., a Tampa-based homebuilder company that built the second largest number of homes in the U.S. last year, donated $50,000 to the PAC. Dwight Schar, the founder of the fourth largest homebuilding company in the U.S., gave $100,000. In total, eight individuals and companies in the real estate or home construction industry gave a total of $365,000 to the PAC.
Another big donor was Florida’s sugar industry. Florida Crystals gave $100,000 through two subsidiaries, Agro-Industrial Management Inc. and America’s Export Corp. Closter Farms Inc., a sugar farm company, gave $50,000. The industry, which gives money frequently to Florida political candidates, has come under fire for pollution concerns from burning sugar cane, which a recent study found kills up to three Florida residents each year due to pollution.
The PAC also got hundreds of thousands from billionaires who are frequent Republican contributors. Bernard Marcus, a founder of Home Depot and one of former President Donald Trump’s largest financial backers during the 2016 election, gave $250,000 to the PAC. Jeffrey Vinik, owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning professional hockey team, gave $25,000 to the PAC under his name and an additional $45,000 through team subsidiaries. Norman Braman, the former owner of the Philadelphia Eagles and longtime Rubio supporter, gave $200,000. Braman and wife Irma have given almost $7.5 million in contributions to Rubio and Pro-Rubio PACs since 2009, when Rubio first sought national office.
Demings receives support from policy-focused groups and unions, but both split Mickey Mouse
While Demings trails Rubio in PAC donations to her campaign and outside PAC support, she does have several notable supporters. The Unidosus Action PAC has spent over $150,000 opposing Rubio. It is funded by the SEIU Florida Public Services Union, which represents 20,000 Florida workers in eight counties, 16 cities, four school districts and seven public colleges and universities. The Retire Him PAC has spent $90,000 against Rubio, and is funded mostly through small-dollar individual donations.
Demings also was boosted from Emily’s List, a fundraising resource for pro-choice women seeking elected office. She took in $220,879 through the platform, $215,879 through donations and $5,000 from the organization itself. She also got some support from the Walt Disney Co., receiving a $2,500 donation from the company and $37,607 from employees.
In his Senate race in 2016, Rubio was the only candidate in his race to receive the Mouse’s support, getting $7,500 from the company and about $6,000 from employees. This time around, his support from Disney has decreased but he still received more money from the company than Demings. He also got $4,000 from the company and a little over $1,000 from employees.