Pensacola businessman and developer Quint Studer said this week that while he’s ruled out any interest in running for office, he has every intention of becoming more active in politics, especially at the local level.
Studer says his involvement will entail lobbying for his local development projects and political issues, along with writing more checks to political candidates and committees.
“When I look back, I realize I just didn’t have time,” Studer said Thursday. “I needed more time to study issues, more time to work on what I care about.”
“I have a lot of interest in moving this community forward and I want to help inform others,” Studer said. “Rishy and I are very committed locally. We want to begin moving projects and processes along. I’m a full-time time volunteer now.”
Studer’s comments on his desire to become more involved in the political process come on the heels of statements he made last week when the businessman said he’s “tried not to contribute to campaigns” in the past. In a follow up with The Pulse, Studer reiterated that he doesn’t believe he has been a big campaign donor.
But those statements run contrary to official records of Studer’s political contributions in recent years. Those records show that over the past ten years, Quint and Rishy Studer — along with the couple’s respective companies — have donated more than $130,000 to political candidates, campaigns, and political action committees.
When asked if it was his intention to run for political office during an interview with NewsRadio 1620 last week Studer said, “The answer is no. In the past I’ve tried not to be involved. I try not to write campaign checks. I try not to lobby.”
Speaking Thursday, Studer sought to clarify his intentions on running for political office.
“The question was asked would you ever run for office,” Studer said. “I said, when you’re in the world of recovery like I am, honesty is key, and I said I’m not saying I will, but you can never say you won’t.”
“I think there’s some people everyday who wake up and wish I would leave,” Studer added.
‘No plans to leave’
Studer has recently made public statements that he’s looking to invest more in his hometown of Janesville, Wisc., where much of his family lives.
Last year, the Studers purchased a block of buildings in downtown Janesville, which the couple plans to redevelop into new retail and storefront shops, under the “Bodacious North” banner. Studer says the development is meant to mirror the couple’s Bodacious family of shops on Main and Palafox Streets in downtown Pensacola.
The investments, coupled with Studer’s recent departure from the company he founded, have led some to speculate that the Studers could leave Pensacola, but Studer insists he has no intentions of doing so. “I have no plans to leave,” he said. “No plans to leave.”
On the contrary, Studer says he intends to be much more involved in the local political and lobbying process and says he regrets being so busy traveling that he’s missed a lot of opportunities to lobby on behalf of projects he says are important to Pensacola.
“I need more time to study issues,” Studer said. “More time to work on what I care about, like education, homelessness, jobs.”
Big money to campaigns
Reaching as far back as 1996, the Studers have made many contributions to Republicans, Democrats, and political action committees — the controversial entities which funnel virtually unlimited amounts of money into political campaigns. The majority of the Studers’ contributions were made in the past decade.
The actual influence Studer and other major campaign contributors have over lawmakers and public policy is unclear, but a review of Studer’s political donations shows his potential political leverage.
The Pulse review shows that between 1996 and 2015, Studer contributed the following:
• $80,514 to campaigns of Pensacola city council and mayoral candidates, Escambia County commissioner and superintendent of schools candidates, and local political action committees.
• $12,900 to Florida congressman Jeff Miller’s campaigns.
• $4,500 to the Republican Party of Florida.
• $5,000 to the Republican National Committee.
Various elected officials — from the local to federal level — have accepted thousands of dollars from Studer through legal campaign finance loopholes that allow political donors to make contributions through multiple entities.
The so-called “LLC loophole” allows a person who owns several businesses — often limited liability companies, or LLCs — to give the maximum allowable campaign contribution through each business. This provides a legal way for wealthy individuals to effectively buy more political influence. Businesses are only required to disclose their business names and addresses.
A few states have enacted legislation to close the LLC loophole — but not the Sunshine State, traditionally known for its strict open records laws that the late Pensacolian Reubin Askew first championed in the 1970s as governor of Florida.
The practice is perfectly legal in Florida. Because of this, the state earned an “F” for political financing in a 2015 State Integrity Investigation by the Center for Public Integrity.
The failing grade for Florida is mostly thanks to Florida’s definition of a “person.” The state’s campaign finance law defines a person as “an individual or a corporation, association, firm, partnership, joint venture, joint stock company, club, organization, estate, trust, business trust, syndicate or other combination of individuals having collective capacity.”
22 states completely prohibit LLCs and other corporations from contributing to political campaigns, including Studer’s home state of Wisconsin.
Swaying laws, policy
Determining the precise influence major campaign donations have over law, policy, and elected officials can be difficult.
Studer asked attorney Scott Remington to review his political contributions in response to an inquiry made by The Pulse. “I have reviewed these records and they are likewise quite modest for someone of your means,” Remington wrote in an email describing Studer’s campaign contributions.
“I am surprised how low this amount has been over the past 7 years,” Remington continued. “This number pales in comparison to many other politically savvy people in Escambia County.”
The Studers are hardly the only wealthy Pensacolians with a history of giving big money to local politicians and using LLCs to funnel money to candidates.
Similarly, the prominent Lewis Bear family has given more than $100,000 in recent Escambia County elections through personal and corporate contributions, official records show. The Terhaar & Cronley families have given more than $60,000 under various LLCs and local companies.
Studer described his motives for becoming more involved now that he’s stepping away from his position with the Studer Group.
“My top priorities are pre-kindergarten educational readiness, jobs, women and children homelessness, and the environment,” Studer said. “How do we get better wages, better jobs? How do you create jobs that have a positive impact on the community?”
Studer says one way he’s trying to give back is through his “Be the Bulb” initiative that focuses on education readiness in local-area schools. As part of the effort, he’s promising $50,000 for the best ideas to improve early learning in Escambia County.
Studer reaffirmed that he has no intentions of running for office, but said his political efforts will be issues-based. He may consider forming a political action committee to support certain candidates or causes, he said, but hasn’t yet taken any steps to do so.
“There might be some candidates that might want to run that don’t have the resources,” Studer said. “I’m doing my due diligence to learn more.”