Before Donald Trump entered the Republican presidential primary in 2015, some of the biggest donors in the GOP were lining up behind Jeb Bush and giving millions to his candidacy through Right to Rise, a super PAC. One of the PAC’s top donors was a Floridian named Mike Fernandez.
Fernandez keeps a relatively low profile, but it’s been estimated that his wealth tops $1 billion. Where did he get it? By spending his career starting, selling, and investing in a series of profitable ventures in health insurance. Unlike Trump, Fernandez’s origins are humble: As the communists seized control in the 1960s, his family immigrated to Florida from Cuba.
Until the 2016 general election, Fernandez was a staunch Republican and avid political donor. Before backing Jeb Bush, he supported Mitt Romney’s candidacy in 2012. A piece in Florida Trend quotes his philosophy: “You can put a glass of water in front of people and whether they drink is up to them. This country puts a lot of glasses in front of people and a lot of people choose not to drink. I come from a pretty arid place so I drink.”
Fernandez is convinced that the vast majority of immigrants, even when they’re undocumented, come to the U.S. with a similar mindset. He favors immigration reform and a path to citizenship, and Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric drove Fernandez to support Hillary Clinton in the general election. In the final months, the rags-to-riches immigrant spent big to boost Florida’s Latino voter turnout.
It wasn't enough. Trump carried Florida in his surprise win of the presidency. Now, Fernandez has joined the ranks of billionaires opposing President Trump, and he’s doing it as a philanthropic donor.
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This month, Fernandez put up $1 million to start the Immigration Partnership and Coalition Fund (IMPAC), which he hopes will become a fundraising nexus in the fight to protect undocumented immigrants. IMPAC opposes an uptick in immigration enforcement from the Trump administration, providing legal counsel to non-felon immigrants targeted by the feds. Fernandez says he’ll commit another $4 million to IMPAC, in addition to funds already laid out for the group’s infrastructure. His initial gift also supports existing groups like Americans for Immigrant Justice.
It’s clear that Fernandez’s personal history as an immigrant has a lot to do with his passion on this issue. In a promotional video, he says that despite a climate of fear, IMPAC “hopes to help those who are trying to be who we were 40 years ago, 50 years ago.”
The group was quick to attract celebrity support. Backers include basketball stars Alonzo Mourning, Shane Battier and Ray Allen, musicians Gloria and Emilio Estefan, actor Andy Garcia and conservative pundit Ana Navarro. IMPAC’s board also brings together leaders from Florida’s business and educational sectors.
Besides this new advocacy effort, Mike Fernandez’s local philanthropy has reportedly been extensive, though low key. His family foundation supports Florida schools, hospitals and the arts, and in 2011, he gave $5 million to the Miami Children's Hospital Foundation to create a new trauma center. In 2012, he worked with Magic Johnson on a charitable project to extend HMO plans into urban communities.
By standing up to Trump during the election and now through IMPAC, Fernandez has joined the ranks of the president’s super-rich opposition. This includes well-known names like billionaire philanthropist Tom Steyer, hedge fund manager George Soros and eBay’s Pierre Omidyar, whose vocal opposition to the president has also manifested in gifts to fight hate crime.