Illinois Billionaire-Funded Super PAC Floods Competitive Florida House Race With Negative Ads

Progress Pinellas PAC has spent $4.7 million on ads and mailers attacking Republican candidate Anna Paulina Luna.

Illinois Billionaire-Funded Super PAC Floods Competitive Florida House Race With Negative Ads
Republican Florida 13th Congressional District candidate Anna Paulina Luna

A super PAC funded by a finance industry executive from Chicago is spending millions on attack ads and other media to boost the chances of a Democratic candidate in a competitive Florida House race. 

Since last November, a group called Progress Pinellas PAC has spent more than $6.8 million in the Florida 13th Congressional District race. The bulk of the money, more than $4.7 million, has been spent to oppose Republican candidate Anna Paulina Luna with negative TV ads and mailers, while the remainder went towards materials to support Democratic candidate Eric Lynn.

The $4.7 million that Progress Pinellas has spent against Luna dwarfs the total amount that her own campaign has raised—about $2.7 million as of the end of September. Overall, the PAC has spent more than any other single-House-race-focused outside spending group this cycle, according to OpenSecrets

Progress Pinellas PAC was established in November 2021 by a former campaign treasurer for former Florida Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson. Its only donor as of its most recent FEC filing, which covers through the end of September, is Justin Ishbia, a founding partner of Chicago private equity firm Shore Capital Partners. Ishbia has donated at least $5 million to Progress Pinellas PAC, according to FEC data. 

Ishbia is a new political megadonor this cycle, with the $5 million he donated vaulting him into the top 40 donors so far in the 2022 midterms elections, according to OpenSecrets. Ishbia is worth $1.9 billion according to Forbes, with much of his wealth coming from a stake in family business United Wholesale Mortgage, which went public in 2021 through a merger with a SPAC. Ishbia is a cousin to Lynn.

“Eric Lynn is proud to have the support necessary to win this seat and continue the Pinellas tradition of electing common sense centrist leaders who are committed to fighting for shared Pinellas values of helping working families deal with rising costs, protecting a woman’s freedom to choose, and providing our veterans the care and service they deserve,” Lynn campaign campaign manager Andrew Bernucca said in an emailed statement.

The Luna campaign did not reply to a request for comment.

Progress Pinellas PAC’s anti-Luna TV ads and mailers say that the Republican candidate is “too extreme” and affiliate her with former President Donald Trump, who endorsed her campaign during the Republican primary. The group has also spent more than $2 million on ads and materials that are supportive of Lynn, including a TV spot that labeled him a “hometown kid” and highlighting his work in the Obama administration as an advisor in the Department of Defense. 

Luna has also benefited from spending by outside groups, including $640,000 spent on her behalf by the conservative Club for Growth Action super PAC and $230,000 in expenditures supporting her campaign by groups affiliated with the House Freedom Caucus. She also likely benefited in the Republican primary from more than $1 million that was spent to oppose her chief rival Kevin Hayslett by Conservative Outsider PAC, a group formed in 2020 that has gotten the vast majority of its funds through transfers from Club for Growth Action. 

The FL-13 seat, which has been vacant since Democrat Charlie Crist left the seat in August to focus on his gubernatorial campaign, is one of the 85 in the House currently deemed “competitive” by The Cook Political Report. It is considered to be a “likely Republican” pick-up by the elections predictions company. The district, rated as “even” by Cook’s partisan voter index, covers much of the Pinellas peninsula between Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico that includes the cities of Clearwater and St. Petersburg.

Luna has outfundraised Lynn by about $800,000, according to the most recent FEC disclosures. 

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