Real estate players pour $18M into DeSantis campaign and PAC

Crist's fundraising efforts severely lag behind the Florida governor

Photo illustration of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist (Getty; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)
Photo illustration of Gov. Ron DeSantis and Charlie Crist (Getty; Illustration by Kevin Rebong for The Real Deal)

Real estate titans are doing their part to bankroll Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ bid for a second term. Meanwhile, the same kind of love isn’t being shown to his opponent, Democrat and former governor and congressman, Charlie Crist.

Heading into the Nov. 8 general election, DeSantis is riding a wave of near invincibility with some polls showing the governor with a double digit lead. The outlook is so grim for Democrats that national media outlets are reporting on how the party is abandoning the Sunshine State, despite DeSantis squeaking into the governor’s mansion by margin smaller than a 1 percent in 2018.

DeSantis, considered a formidable rival to former President Donald Trump for the GOP’s 2024 presidential nomination should they both decide to run, has raised an astronomical $224 million through his campaign and the political action committee, Friends of Ron DeSantis as of Oct. 24. By comparison, Crist’s campaign and the PAC Friends of Charlie Crist have raised a combined $28.3 million.

The Real Deal analyzed all contributions for the two campaigns and their respective PACs to determine how much each candidate raised from real estate and construction professionals. DeSantis has outmatched Crist in every donor category.

DeSantis has raised $18 million from the real estate industry, while Crist has only collected $2 million, the analysis shows.

The six-figure club

More than two dozen developers each kicked in six-figure donations to the DeSantis reelection effort, while Crist got zero donations in that range. Another 62 prominent real estate players each donated $50,000 or more to DeSantis. Only three individuals and one company contributed $50,000 each to Crist.

Desantis’ top donor in the category is Edward DeBartolo Jr., a billionaire developer based in Tampa who once owned the San Francisco 49ers. DeBartolo separately donated $300,000 and $100,000 to Friends of Ron DeSantis.

In 1998, DeBartolo pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony in connection with a federal corruption probe of former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards. Debartolo agreed to pay a $1 million fine and give up ownership of the 49ers. In 2020, Trump pardoned DeBartolo.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

The second biggest real estate donor to Friends of DeSantis is Ronald Wanek, the billionaire founder of Ashley Furniture. Wanek’s Tampa-based family office, Third Lake Capital, is developing several projects in Hillsborough County, including the revamp and renovation of St. Peterberg’s municipal services center into an office building after acquiring the property last year for $12.2 million. Wanek donated $250,000 to the sitting governor’s PAC.

Steven Witkoff, chairman and CEO of New York-based Witkoff, and Stephen Ross, chairman of New York-based Related Companies, were among 21 real estate honchos who each gave $100,000 to Friends of DeSantis. Witkoff and Monroe Capital are redeveloping and rebranding The Shore Club Art Deco hotel in Miami Beach into Auberge, an oceanfront luxury condominium and hotel.

Ross, who owns the Miami Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, is a major force in the renaissance of downtown West Palm Beach’s office market with his company involved in the purchase of several buildings and development of One Flagler, a new 25-story office tower where asking rents have hit $150 a square foot.

Other South Florida developers rallying behind DeSantis include Shoma’s Masoud Shojaee, who gave a combined $110,000 in separate contributions; Miami Worldcenter master developer Art Falcone, who bundled $50,000; and Matthew Whitman Lazenby, president and CEO of Whitman Family Development, owner of the Bal Harbour Shops in Bal Harbour. Lazenby donated $50,000.

Minimal financial support for Crist

Crist, on the other hand, hasn’t garnered much enthusiasm from the real estate industry. His top donors were John and Joann Nestor, a pair of St. Petersburg realtors, who kicked in a combined $94,000 to Friends of Charlie Crist.

Coastal Construction, a Miami-based general contracting firm led by Thomas Murphy Jr., contributed $75,000 in two separate donations to Crist’s PAC. Coastal is managing construction of Starwood Capital’s new Miami Beach headquarters building, the Aston Martin Residences luxury condominium in downtown Miami and the Four Seasons Residences Fort Lauderdale, among other projects.