Democratic retired Navy Commander Phil Ehr added more than $160,000 last quarter toward his bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez in Florida’s 28th Congressional District, all of it through grassroots donations.
Due to heavy spending that outpaced his gains, Ehr entered 2024 with less cash on hand than he started — and 13 times less than Giménez holds. But Ehr also raised far more than Giménez through personal checks, which his senior campaign adviser, Obi Umanna, said indicates slipping support for the incumbent.
“Maybe he’s afraid of his record of doing the bidding of corporations or the super-wealthy. Or maybe he doesn’t want to face accountability for his anti-democratic votes to overturn an American election. Maybe he regrets his whitewashing Donald Trump’s despicable attacks on Latinos,” Umanna said in a statement.
“Whatever it is, Carlos Giménez is giving every sign that he’s not running for re-election. He bagged more than half of his individual contributions from those who are subject to pay-to-play rules at the state and local level. The guy knows how to get money — he somehow got a yacht on a public servant salary. But these numbers show that the only people who want Giménez in office are those who stand to enrich themselves.”
Ehr’s biggest bump came through a $30,000 self-loan. He also spent $17,400 on his campaign without reimbursing himself.
The rest came through some 220 personal checks, many for three figures or less. His biggest donors included audio Tampa-based simulation software executive Stephen Jones, window magnate Brian Tillman and Orlando and Panama City-based radar tech exec Gary Andrews.
All gave maxed-out donations of $6,600, equal to $3,300 apiece for the Primary and General Elections, which the Federal Election Commission (FEC) classifies as separate races.
Ehr spent $182,000 between Oct. 1 and Dec. 31. A big chunk of that spending, $48,200, went to Umanna’s Jacksonville-based firm for “strategic consulting services.”
He also paid about $16,000 to Pinellas Park-based JoAnna Fleming for “call time services,” $14,000 to Washington-based AGP Strategies for “digital consulting,” $13,000 to Chicago consultant Graeme Zielinksi for “communication services” and $10,000 to Washington-headquartered data tech firm Grassroots Analytics, New Jersey-based Vision Media Marketing and Jake Briggs, a Vision Media Marketing account executive and Ehr’s Campaign Manager.
Ehr also refunded three donations totaling $5,125.
In October, shortly after he switched from running against Republican U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, Ehr’s campaign released polling by Change Research that showed Giménez underwater by 8 percentage points among CD 28 voters familiar with him.
The poll also showed that after hearing positive information about both candidates, respondents favored Ehr far more than the incumbent. In a theoretical vote, Ehr trailed Giménez by just 3 points.
Giménez raised $102,500 in Q4 toward securing a third term. Half the 72 donations he accepted came from people. The rest were from PACs and corporations, many from the aviation and defense industries.
A sizable portion of the personal checks Giménez took last quarter came through the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group headquartered in Washington.
Of the former Miami-Dade County Mayor’s particularly generous benefactors, most worked in real estate. He received $6,600 contributions from Jeffrey Berkowitz of Berkowitz Development Group, Fontainebleau Development CEO Jeffrey Soffer, and Hellen Fried-Stahl, COO of homeowners association services company NextGen Management.
Margarita Codina, wife of Coral Gables-based mega-developer Armando Codina, gave $6,000.
Other noteworthy contributions included $3,300 from Duty Free America Chair Simon Falic and his wife, Jana, who together have given Giménez $13,200 this cycle.
Phillip Frost, the namesake for the Miami Frost Science Museum, chipped in $6,600 as well.
Giménez Victory Committee, a joint fundraising committee associated with the Congressman, transferred $30,500 in funds to his campaign coffers last quarter. Two other committees he’s tied to — Libertad and the Hispanic Leadership Trust Partnership — moved a combined $10,200 into his account.
A former Miami Fire Department Chief, Giménez again enjoyed support from the International Association of Firefighters, which donated $5,000.
PACs linked to the Allied Pilots Association, American Airlines, BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics Corp., Boeing and the National Air Traffic Controllers Association each chipped in $1,000.
Giménez spent about $87,000 between Oct. 1 and New Year’s Eve, by which time he had $906,000 left in his war chest.
The preponderance of his spending went to consulting companies, including $29,000 to The Theodore Group, $15,000 to AM Strategies, $8,000 to Professional Data Services and $3,000 to Miami-based media consultant Rey Lasatre.
His other big expenditures were for outreach. He spent more than $14,000 to rent the Charlotte Football Club in North Carolina for an event, $10,000 on an event sponsorship with the Miami Dade College Foundation and $2,750 for another event sponsorship with the Republican Party of Monroe County.
The rest covered software costs, bank fees, emails, donation-processing fees, shipping, storage, travel and food.
The FEC lists two other Democrats as running in CD 28, which spans a southern portion of Miami-Dade, including Homestead and Florida City, and all of the Keys in Monroe.
One, Marcos Reyes, dropped out of the race last month to instead challenge incumbent Miami Republican state Rep. Juan Porras in Florida House District 119.
“I believe I can make a more positive impact (that way),” he told Florida Politics by email Friday.
The other candidate, Jacqueline Boulin Romain, reported no campaign finance activity in Q4.
CD 28 alternated blue and red prior to Giménez’s victory in 2020, when he unseated then-incumbent Democratic U.S. Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, who is now running against Scott.
Giménez won a second two-year term in November 2022, when he defeated former Democratic state Rep. Robert Ascencio and GOP write-in candidate Jeremiah Schaffer with 64% of the vote.
Candidates faced a Wednesday deadline to report all campaign finance activity through Dec. 31.