Michelle Oyola McGovern retakes the lead in money race for PBC Commission
Image via AP.

Michelle Oyola McGovern
McGovern, the current front-runner in fundraising, and Matt Willhite have traded places a few times in the money race for District 6 seat.

A $50,000 donation from a law enforcement political committee catapulted Michelle Oyola McGovern ahead of her chief rival in the money race for a Palm Beach County Commission seat, May reports show.

It was a repeat in reverse of April’s haul for state Rep. Matt Willhite, when a $50,000 donation from the firefighters’ union briefly propelled him past McGovern in the bid to represent District 6 on the County Commission.

The two Democrats have been neck-and-neck in a four-way race to fill the seat that’s being vacated because Commissioner Melissa McKinlay is term-limited in her role.

McGovern spent $6,140 and raised $64,448 in May through her personal account and political committee she shares with her husband, Team McGovern. That leaves her with $358,950 to spend on her campaign to represent the western, agricultural slice of Palm Beach County.

That compares to the $299,083 that Willhite has. In May, he spent more and raised less than his rival.

Oyola, an administrator at Baptist Health who had been a longtime top aide of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, received $50,000 from the Citizens for Law Order and Ethics, a West Palm Beach law enforcement political committee. It was her biggest donation of the month.

Real estate interests accounted for the second-biggest sector contributing to her campaign, chipping in $3,500.

Additionally, McGovern received $1,000 donations from John Koons, a Palm Beach retiree; Geoffrey Sluggett, a West Palm Beach consultant/lobbyist; EC-PAC, a political committee based in Tallahassee; Jon Channing of Boca Raton, who works in real estate; McNicholas & Associates, Palm Beach Gardens public affairs firm; Thomas McNicholas of Palm Beach Gardens, who works in public affairs;  Ranger Construction Industries in West Palm Beach; Michael Bellissimo of Wellington, who works in real estate; Lucienne Bellissimo of Wellington, CEO of Horse Scout; and Leo Vecellio Jr. a transportation contractor in Palm Beach.

Most of McGovern’s May expenses went toward Cornerstone Solutions in West Palm Beach for $5,445 worth of campaign signs.

Meanwhile, Willhite, a three-term state Representative and West Palm Beach firefighter, collected $18,710 in May through his personal campaign and through his committee, Floridians for Public Safety. That’s a contrast to the $100,000 in firefighter union money he hauled during the previous two months.

Two donors tied for Willhite’s biggest donation in May. Willhite received $5,000 checks from both Delaware North Companies Inc., a Buffalo, New York company, and Strong Communities of Southwest Florida, a political committee based in Tallahassee.

Jim C. Walton of Bentonville, Arkansas, one of the heirs to the Walmart fortune, gave Willhite $2,000.

He also received $1,000 donations from The Committee for Justice, Transportation and Business, a political action committee based in Tallahassee and Right Future for Florida, a political committee based in Miami.

Willhite also turned on the spending in May, more than any of his rivals. He sent out $31,126, the most by far that he’s spent in any month during this election cycle. Most — $27,796 — went to MDW Communications in Plantation for design, print and mailings. He also spent $3,300 with Intuition Data in Loxahatchee for campaign consulting.

The other two candidates are a distant third and fourth in the money race.

Democrat Sylvia Sharps raised $510 in May and spent $431. She has a total of $9,225 to spend in the race.

Whoever wins the Democratic Primary will face Republican Sara Baxter. She raised $490 in May and spent $2,930, leaving her with a total of $35,443 to spend on her campaign for the Commission.

The seat, recently redistricted in the decennial process, covers several western communities, largely regarded as the agricultural part of Palm Beach County, such as Belle Glade, Pahokee, South Bay and Wellington.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected]


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