June 2021 “Cha-Ching”

First the bad news . . .

Cecil Pendergrass raised $94,570 last month for his reelection campaign, for a total of $132,508 in donations since April. 

Unfortunately, there is no good news.

Without an opponent, one must ask what these donors expect for their money and why they feel the need to underwrite a campaign with only one candidate.

We reviewed donors who gave Cecil’s campaign $500 or more in June:

  • Of the 174 donors reported, 96 gave $500+, and 73 of these (or 78%) were from clearly development-related entities and individuals, for a total of $63,750 from this sector alone.  In fact, the June list of campaign donors reads like a “Who’s Who” of development interests in the county:  engineers, home builders, realtors, large developers, general contractors, land use attorneys, etc.  
  • Five $1000 donors all had the same surname as a large developer, another $1000 donor works for this same developer, and the company itself gave another $1000 for a total of $7000.  In Florida, FYI, although the maximum donation is $1000, there is no restriction on related individuals making separate donations, as in this case.  Surely a cumulative $7000 is large enough to make one’s voice heard.

Special interests again were prominent in June:

  • In addition to June’s $63,750 from the development sector, the hospitality industry contributed $5000 (for a 3-month total of $6500) and donations from the health care sector were $1000 (for a 3-month total of $13,000). 
  • Of particular interest is June’s $4500 donated by five donors from the transportation industry.  Commissioner Pendergrass, along with the other commissioners, serves on the Board of Port Commissioners, which oversees the LeeTran bus system, the county’s two airports, and all services provided to them.  Pendergrass June campaign donors in this category include taxi companies, and two transportation planning consultants, all of whom are vendors with the county, and a flight training school.  We will continue tracking these special interests throughout the campaign season.

So far, in the three months of reporting, 60% of the $500+ donations Pendergrass has received are from developer interests (the overall percentage is higher when taking into account donations of less than $500, which we are not tracking).  And while the commissioner often states that these donations do not influence his votes, there is always room to wonder, especially when donations emanate from companies doing business with the county. 

We are not alone in decrying this soulless approach to politics in our county.  An article in the News-Press (Growth, development interests heavily fund Lee County commissioner campaigns,” Dec. 3, 2020, https://www.news-press.com/story/news/2020/12/03/growth-development-interests-fund-lee-county-commissioner-campaigns/3732888001/ ) quoted Peter Bergerson, a political science professor at FGCU:  “The environmental voice and the general public – I wouldn’t say they are locked out of the process – but their voices don’t carry the weight that the major contributors have made. You connect the dots. There’s just no question that campaign contributions are made as an investment. A business investment or a political investment. They want their point of view represented with people who are in influential positions.”

It is concerning to watch this continuing trend of special interest funding of this local campaign.  Incumbency is powerful and raising vast amounts of money from one business sector and individuals related by birth and/or marriage to business leaders invites many questions —  especially so this far from the 2022 election without an opponent in sight. Of course, the only way to change this is to send a message by voting against Commissioner Pendergrass, if and when an opponent steps forward to give us a choice.

One note:  Pendergrass did return the $500 donation made by a 501(c)(3) family foundation that is prohibited by law from giving to political candidates.  And just as quickly, its president turned around and contributed the $500 as a personal donation. 

Some readers have asked why we do not include names in this report.  Rather than list names, we encourage those interested to become familiar with the data readily available on the websites of the Supervisor of Elections (www.lee.vote/Campaign-Reports/Campaign-Finance-Reports) and Lee County (leegov.com).  You will be amazed at the wealth of information publicly available.  Although historical data prior to 2017 is missing from the Lee County website, somewhat limiting its usefulness, we encourage you to visit it to learn more about how the county is managed.

“Cha-ching” brings you monthly info and analysis of campaign financing trends in our county political races.  ALL information we report is publicly available and donors’ names can be found at http://www.lee.vote/Campaign-Reports/Campaign-Finance-Reports.