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Who are the donors behind Brandon...

Who are the donors behind Brandon Presley’s big fundraising haul?

By: Russ Latino - November 3, 2023

Brandon Presley, Democratic nominee for Mississippi Governor, addresses a group of business leaders at the 2023 Hobnob, sponsored by the Mississippi Economic Council, in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2023. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

National Democratic PACs, Hollywood elites, labor unions looking to end right-to-work laws, and a smorgasbord of progressive activists from across the country have poured millions into the campaign coffers of Mississippi Democrat Brandon Presley.

Democratic candidate for governor Brandon Presley has raised nearly $11.3 million so far this year. It’s the kind of money that would make Democrat candidates from previous cycles in Mississippi drool. At this time in 2019, former-Attorney General Jim Hood reported less than half that amount ($5.4 million) raised.

Incumbent Republican Governor Tate Reeves, accustomed to large money advantages, has cried foul. Reeves argues the dollars are flowing from liberal activists in “New York, California, and Washington, D.C.” with the goal of importing their values to Mississippi.

Looking only at big donors, those who have given $10,000 or more during this calendar year to Presley, $7.24 million came from addresses outside the state of Mississippi. $844,353 of Presley’s gifts, $10,000 or over, came from Mississippians.

But who are these out-of-staters so keenly interested in the Governor’s Mansion?

Democratic Governors Association

By far Presley’s largest donor is the Democratic Governors Association. The organization has sent over $5.85 million to aid the effort to unseat Reeves. It may actually be unfair to treat this definitively as out-of-state money. Both the Democratic and Republican Governors Associations receive a mix of contributions that include corporate donors that often play both sides, partisan activists, and in-state donors interested in particular candidates.

The Wall Street Journal looked at the structure of these associations a few years back and noted the difficulty of tracking dollars. Because of the way these organizations are arranged, it is impossible to state with certainty which donor dollars given to the DGA wind up in a candidate’s pocket.

The last report the DGA filed with the IRS showed contributions received through June 30, 2023 – before its donations to Presley. In other words, it is possible Mississippi donors gave to the DGA with expressed interest in Presley’s campaign after the DGA’s filing deadline. We won’t have a better sense until next year if Mississippians might have used the DGA to wash contributions that they did not want appearing on campaign finance filings before the election.

The DGA’s current report shows a laundry list of America’s biggest companies, including healthcare companies like United Healthcare, Aetna, Centene and Vertex Pharmaceuticals, retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, and even Coca-Cola. Most of these companies hedge by contributing to the associations of both parties. They are joined in giving to the DGA by a bevy of more partisan labor unions and activists, like George Soros. These big players all give in the six-figures.

Through the DGA’s June 30th filing deadline only one Mississippian, Jonathan Krebs, shows up with a gift more than a thousand dollars. Krebs, a partner at Horne, gave $25,000.

Labor Unions

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers’ PAC had given $300,000 to the DGA as of June 30th. It also has given directly to Presley. IBEW’s $276,000 is the second largest direct contribution to his campaign. “Working for Working Americans,” the PAC associated with the United Brotherhood of Carpenters, gave Presley another $100,000. The Sheet Metal, Air,Rail and Transportation Union added another $75,000.

Each of these unions identifies as a priority (here, here, and here) the elimination of right-to-work laws. These laws give workers the freedom to decide whether to join a union and prevent them from being forced to do so. Mississippi is presently a right-to-work state.

Randi Weingarten, President of American Federation of Teachers, fires up the crowd at the Democratic National Convention in 2016. Lee Saunders, President of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees applauds. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Presley has also drawn the support of two national teachers’ unions. The National Educators Association gave $75,000 and the American Federation for Teachers another $50,000.

Conservatives have sounded alarm bells about these unions abandoning their primary purpose of representing educators in favor of pushing progressive policies unrelated to education for some time.

A 2021 Report found that the unions spent twice as much on political activity as respresentational activities. The organizations give almost exclusively to Democrats and left-leaning causes, despite surveys showing as much as 57 percent of teachers identify as Republican or Independent.

Both unions have drawn additional ire for advocating for prolonged school closures during COVID and gender ideology perceived as radical by some. The NEA recently released a set of gender pronoun guidelines that encouraged members to use gender neutral pronouns like the plural “they” or “them,” or to use “ze, zim, zir, zirs, or zirself” in place of “he, him, she, or her.”

Hollywood, Environmentalists, and Progressive Activists Get On Board

Chances are you have not heard of Patty Quillin, but she is Reed Hastings wife. Okay, you might not have heard of Reed Hastings, either, but he is the founder and executive chairman of this little thing called Netflix. Quillin is a film producer turned Democratic megadonor. She made a $20,000 contribution to Presley.

Quillin is not the only Californian contributing. The California-based Sierra Club is responsible for donations of more than $70,000. The environmental group actively advocates for the end of fossil fuels, opposes nuclear energy, is attempting to prevent banks from doing business with oil and gas companies, and is known for litigation to stop land development. Several solar and green energy companies are on the list of Presley donors, as well.

Judith Enck, center, former regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency addresses those gathered at a protest against President Trump’s plan to expand offshore drilling for oil and gas on Thursday, February 15, 2018, in Albany, N.Y. At left is Roger Downs, the conservation director of the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter. Behind them is former national Sierra Club President Aaron Mair. (AP Photo/David Klepper)

Californian Karla Jurvetson is the Vice Chair of Emily’s List, an organization whose mission is to advocate for abortions through the election of pro-choice candidates. Jurvetson has donated $55,000 to Presley, including $50,000 in the latest reporting period. She is not alone. Illinois philanthropist and political activist Marie McKellar received an “Impact Award” from Planned Parenthood for her dedication to preserving access to abortions. McKellar gave Presley $12,500.

New Yorker Ted Snowdon is a Broadway producer. In the 2022 cycle, he was among the DGA’s top 10 donors. Snowdon’s stated focus is on supporting causes that advance LGBTQ rights. He has contributed $10,000 directly to Presley.

On issues like abortion, transgender treatments for minors, and protecting girls’ sports, Presley has publicly espoused traditional conservative stances while in Mississippi. He says he opposes sex change surgeries for minors, does not support boys playing girls sports, and is pro-life, which seems to be at odds with the priorities of donors like Jurvetson and Snowdon.

When pressed this week, Presley pushed back on the idea that his donors were a reflection on his own values. “Anybody who donates money to me can hang it up if they think they can tell Brandon Presley what to do,” he said.

Prominent Mississippians

While Mississippians’ contributions to Presley pale in comparison to national donors, there are some high profile in-state givers. Former Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale has been a fixture in Mississippi’s philanthropic community. He helped launch the Sally Barksdale Honors College at Ole Miss and Mississippi Today. Barksdale is Presley’s second largest in-state individual contributor at $60,000.

Former Secretary of State and businessman Dick Molpus has given $51,000. Former trial lawyer Dickie Scruggs joined Barksdale and Molpus in supporting Presley. Scruggs gave $22,500.

Presley’s largest in-state donation came from the Mississippi Hospital Association. Shortly after MHA made the $250,000 gift, it experienced a schism. Magnolia Tribune broke the stories about the gift and was the first to report on the string of hospitals that left the association afterwards. Ultimately, MHA parted ways with its long-time head Tim Moore.

About the Author(s)
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Russ Latino

Russ is a proud Mississippian and the founder of Magnolia Tribune Institute. His research and writing have been published across the country in newspapers such as The Wall Street Journal, National Review, USA Today, The Hill, and The Washington Examiner, among other prominent publications. Russ has served as a national spokesman with outlets like Politico and Bloomberg. He has frequently been called on by both the media and decisionmakers to provide public policy analysis and testimony. In founding Magnolia Tribune Institute, he seeks to build on more than a decade of organizational leadership and communications experience to ensure Mississippians have access to news they can trust and opinion that makes them think deeply. Prior to beginning his non-profit career, Russ practiced business and constitutional law for a decade. Email Russ: