Money, Politics, and Cuba

The Federal Election Commission has a few questions for an influential Miami political action committee

But is it mere carelessness when the Free Cuba PAC omits large chunks of important data in its disclosures? When the committee finally submitted its first-quarter 2000 report on October 16 (shortly before the November 7 election), only two donations from the PAC to political candidates were listed. Neither contribution had been reported to the FEC by the recipient, an understandable omission in at least one case, since the donation went to a nonexistent candidate. The PAC indicates it contributed $1000 to "Andre for Congress" on February 7, 2000. Wherever that check ended up, it's doubtful it went to the committee to elect Andre Elvin Dean of Bryan, Texas, to the U.S. House. That committee was disbanded in 1998, when Dean lost his Republican primary. The other contribution Free Cuba lists for that quarter is $1000 to U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer. But the senator's own records don't show any receipts from the Free Cuba PAC in the past four years.

It wasn't until almost six months after the election and a year after the disclosure due date, on April 24, 2001, that the Free Cuba PAC reported seven more campaign contributions totaling $9500, made during the first quarter of 2000. These went to real candidates, including George W. Bush ($5000 on March 23) and Florida Republican Rep. Clay Shaw ($1000 on March 28). But curiously, del Valle neglected to disclose another $5000 contribution made on February 16, 2000, to "Pete's PAC," the committee formed by New Mexico Republican Sen. Pete Domenici. Although Domenici promptly reported the contribution, it didn't appear on the Free Cuba disclosure forms until July 18, 2001, when the committee filed a second amended report. (Mario del Valle did not return calls seeking comment for this story.)

Two months later, in its amended October 2000 quarterly report, the PAC disclosed more previously unreported donations it had received more than a year earlier -- a whopping $20,000. The money came from well-known figures, including sugar barons José and Alfonso Fanjul ($2500 each) and retired Univision executive Raul Toraño ($5000) and wife Maria Teresa Toraño ($4500). Raul Toraño would donate another $500 in September 2000, putting him over the $5000 calendar-year limit on donations to a political action committee. Another generous couple, Juan and Marta Gutierrez of Toms River, New Jersey, gave $5100 each to the PAC during 2000. (Juan Gutierrez is a foundation director.)

So almost none of the donations received by the Free Cuba Political Action Committee came to light until long after the hotly contested 2000 elections. And many large contributions from the PAC to federal candidates, including the current president, were omitted from the committee's itemized reports and only revealed in amendments made public much later. That, of course, defeats the purpose of federal campaign-finance laws. "The purpose of disclosure is to give voters a look at the money candidates and committees take in and how they spend it," says the FEC's Ian Stirton. "Whether it makes any difference or not, certainly the intent was to have timely disclosure, especially of time-sensitive reports. It's no good, for example, having a preprimary report filed after the election."

When calculating late fines, the commission takes into account many factors and increases fines if time-sensitive reports are involved. "The FEC takes pre-election reports very seriously," says ex-FEC counsel Lawrence Noble, "and if a committee keeps pushing them past the election, it's a problem. The first question is: Why didn't they want these contributions reported before the election?"

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