Former Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chairman Joe Garcia is wasting no time knuckling up for
his latest run for U.S. Congress.
One week after announcing he will again run for Florida's 25th district, Garcia is accusing the leading Republican candidate, state Rep. David Rivera, of trampling over a law that prohibits state legislators from soliciting campaign donations from lobbyists and their clients during the legislature's 60-day session.
In an emailed statement, Garcia says, "David Rivera has completely disregarded the intent of this law. His most recent campaign finance report is dominated by lobbyists, their clients and family members."
Rivera, in an emailed response to Banana Republican, scoffed at the allegation. "This personal attack is simply the beginning of a negative and desperate campaign meant to distract voters from the failed polices of the Obama-Pelosi administrations," Rivera wrote.
In 1994, the Florida Legislature created the campaign reform law to limit the influence of lobbyists and special interest groups during the period when bills and the budget are being drafted. A loophole allows state legislators running for federal office to solicit and accept contributions during the session but only if the donations cannot be construed to improperly influence the member's official act, decision, or vote.
Rivera provided me with a copy of a recent letter from Florida House of Representatives General Counsel Karen Camechis to another legislator running for federal office affirming that it is OK to raise the money for a federal run.
Garcia -- who resigned from the Department of Energy to run -- cited a 2007 letter from the previous legislative consigliere, Jeremiah Hawkes, who opined that accepting contributions from lobbyists and their clients "could increase the likelihood that it would be perceived as influencing the member's vote. Members have chosen in the past to act with prudence... allowing others to solicit the funds or by not accepting contributions during the session."
As the state House's budget committee chairman, Rivera has significant clout over the state's multibillion-dollar budget. He holds the purse strings for every project in Florida. So even if he is not directly violating the contribution ban, it doesn't look good when most of the $700,000 he raised in the past quarter came from lobbyists and special interests.
Analyzing Rivera's campaign finance report, I counted at least 80 individuals and political action committees who are actively lobbying the state legislature during the session. The number doesn't include family relatives of lobbyists and company principals.
For example, lobbyist Ron Book, his wife, and his daughter contributed $12,600 to Rivera. His client Auto Nation's PAC gave $2,000. Nine employees from another Book client, Biscayne Bay Pilots, kicked in a combined $3,100.
Hialeah Race Track owner John Brunetti, who is banking on a bill that would restore racing at the recently reopened facility, contributed the maximum $4,800. The Fanjul brothers, owners of Florida Crystal Sugar Company, also ponied up $4,800. Big sugar has several pieces of legislation it wants to see approved.
Nonetheless, Rivera asserted his campaign did nothing wrong. "My campaign is in full compliance with all state, federal and legislative rules related to campaign finance matters," he wrote. "My fundraising activity has been completely transparent to the public. I will have it no other way."
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