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Buyer’s remorse?

Written by on Wednesday, May 29, 2024

A big developer and campaign contributor switches horse mid-stream.


By Florence Fahringer

Original Air Date: May 29, 2024

Host: Hugh Culverhouse Jr. is one of the biggest developers in Sarasota County. He is also a philanthropist, making headlines for big-dollar donations in Florida and beyond. But do his political donations line up with his philanthropic activities? Florence Fahringer has the story. 

Florence Fahringer: Hugh Culverhouse Jr. made headlines in March when he volunteered to cover the costs of United Way’s 211 helpline, after Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran slashed county funding. It came as a surprise: County Commissioners Mike Moran, Neil Rainford, and Joe Neunder had all taken turns grilling the United Way representative, before Commissioner Mark Smith interrupted them to read an email he had received from Culverhouse. The businessman rode to the rescue of the helpline and volunteered the $100,000 which the county commission was no longer willing to pay. 

Culverhouse, Jr.

This became one of many headlines telling stories of Culverhouse’s philanthropy. A Google search of his name almost exclusively brings up articles of Culverhouse’s donations to universities or churches across the state, and into neighboring Alabama. Since the University of Alabama rejected a $26 million donation from Culverhouse five years ago — which he claims happened because he encouraged students to boycott the school over a draconian anti-abortion law passed by Alabama — some local liberals treat Culverhouse almost like a hero. 

But what these 211 donation headlines left out was Culverhouse’s history of political campaign contributions. Specifically: Donations to the campaign for Tax Collector of County Commissioner Moran, who seemed to be on the opposite side of the 211 issue. 

A few months earlier, Culverhouse personally donated to Moran’s campaign. Campaign donations max out at $1,000 per person or entity, but four other businesses donated to Moran a few days later: Palmer Ranch Holdings Inc., McCann Holdings Ltd., Wynnstay Hunt, and Culverhouse Limited Partnership. Palmer Ranch is the name of the development owned and run by Culverhouse, and McCann is the maiden name of Culverhouse’s mother, Joy McCann Culverhouse. Joy M. Culverhouse Inc. also serves as a general partner of Culverhouse Limited Partnership. Wynnstay Hunt lists Culverhouse as its president. Even though all of these businesses have an overt tie to Culverhouse, none of them list him as their registered agent — that honor belongs instead to Justin N. Powell. Powell was promoted to President of Palmer Ranch Holdings just last year. Together, Culverhouse and related entities pumped $5,000 into Moran’s campaign, which made them one of the largest — if not the largest — contributors at that point.

Moran

Unlike Hugh Culverhouse’s personal donations, these Palmer Ranch companies actually span across the county elections. These companies donated $10,000 to Teresa Mast’s campaign for county commission, $9,000 to Ron Cutsinger’s reelection, and $8,000 to Tom Knight — that covers the whole county commission. Also, in 2022 Palmer Ranch Holdings Ltd. donated $1,000 to Bridget Ziegler’s reelection to the Sarasota County School Board. Ziegler, who has never addressed the abortion issue directly, is certainly not known as a friend to the pro-choice crowd. 

Ford-Coates

There’s one more donation Culverhouse and these companies have made recently. In the days following Culverhouse’s surprise intervention to save 211, the Palmer Ranch companies spent $10,000 in a single day on Barbara Ford-Coates — Sarasota’s incumbent tax collector of 40 years, who is running for reelection against challenger Mike Moran.

A case of buyer’s remorse? WSLR News reached out to Culverhouse for comment repeatedly, but did not receive a reply.

This is Florence Fahringer, reporting for WSLR News. 

 

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