Publix heiress funds Florida school board races through Moms for Liberty PAC

Miami Herald | By Tess Riski | August 23, 2022

Publix heiress Julie Jenkins Fancelli is helping fund some of Florida’s most competitive school board races.

Campaign finance records show that in June, Fancelli donated $50,000 to the Florida-based Moms for Liberty political action committee.

Moms for Liberty is a growing parents’ rights group that is mobilized around conservative issues such as mask mandates and classroom instruction materials related to gender and race. The group has garnered support from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who was the keynote speaker at the Moms for Liberty National Summit last month. The organization has a laser focus on school boards.

Fancelli’s contribution was the PAC’s first and represents over 98% of its funds. It has raised an additional $837 from 10 other donors.

Last year, a Washington Post investigation found that Fancelli donated $650,000 to three organizations in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 gathering of President Donald Trump’s supporters in Washington, making her “the largest publicly known donor to the rally.” Those groups included a nonprofit that helped organize the rally, and another that funded a robocall encouraging a march to the Capitol to “stop the steal.”

Moms for Liberty co-founder Tiffany Justice said Fancelli was the one who reached out to the group, which was grateful for her support.

Justice said she was not aware of Fancelli’s donations to groups involved in the Jan. 6 rally, but that it doesn’t have an impact on her organization’s decision to accept the donation.

“She obviously invests in things she cares about,” Justice said. “I don’t get why there would be any connection. People who contribute politically contribute in lots of different ways.”

Fancelli is the daughter of Publix founder George Jenkins. Asked about the decision to accept money from Fancelli, Justice described a reverence for Publix, which she said has “made Florida great.”

“Everybody in Florida loves Publix, everyone loves a Publix sub,” Justice said. “Who’s open first after a hurricane? Publix.”

Publix did not respond to the Herald’s request for comment. Weeks after the Jan. 6 rally, the company released a statement decrying the violence at the Capitol. It also distanced itself from Fancelli, saying she is “neither involved in our business operations, nor does she represent the company in any way.”

On July 12, campaign finance records show, the Moms for Liberty PAC gave $250 contributions to 35 Florida School Board candidates, which amounted to $8,750. Then on Aug. 12, it spent $5,250 in another round of $250 contributions to 21 additional school board candidates.

Those donations were made at a time of increasing politicization around school board races, which are historically nonpartisan. On Sunday, DeSantis launched his “Education Agenda Tour,” where he spoke at a podium decorated with a “Protect Parents’ Rights” sign.

During the rally, the governor announced his endorsement of two Miami-Dade School Board candidates: Roberto Alonso and Monica Colucci. As the Herald previously reported, in 2020 DeSantis appointed Alonso to the Miami Dade College Board of Trustees. Colucci previously worked as a special assistant to Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez.

Alonso and Colucci are among the 56 candidates who received a $250 contribution from the Moms for Liberty PAC. Other recipients include Hernando County School Board candidate Monty Floyd, whose campaign slogan is “Make Education Great Again”; incumbent Jill Woolbright, who compared her time on the Flagler County School Board to “satanic warfare [and] spiritual warfare”; and a third Miami-Dade School Board candidate, Sandra Manzieri.

Justice said the candidates have in common their commitment to “parental rights.”

With less than $15,000 of the PAC money spent on school board candidate contributions, Justice said the PAC intends to spend its remaining dollars on advertising.

“The goal is to be able to do this all over the country,” she said. “We’re just getting started.”

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