Even as Donald Trump announced his campaign for president earlier this week, his actions were still under review by the Miami-Dade County Ethics Commission. Coincidentally, the Commission cleared Trump of any wrongdoing in a meeting yesterday.
Back in late 2013, Trump just happened to join Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez for a round of golf at the public Crandon Park Golf Course on Key Biscayne. The previous year, Trump bought the Doral Golf Resort and Spa, perhaps Miami-Dade's most well-regarded commercial golf course, and mentioned to Gimenez that he might like to buy the Crandon Park golf course as well.
Gimenez responded that buying the course would be an impossibility. The land was deeded to the county by the Matheson family in 1940, and the family still holds rights over major decisions on use of the land. Lead by descendant Bruce Matheson, the family has long deplored over-commercialization of the park. However, Gimenez referred Trump to other county officials who suggested that Trump's company could submit an unsolicited bid proposing taking over management of the golf course.
Trump did just that in late 2014. While the Trump organization promised not to raise green fees for local residents, the benefits to his company were evident. It would add a waterfront golf course in Miami to his portfolio, and add an additional course he could promote to his golf-happy tourists at the Doral Golf Resort, now known as the Trump National Doral. The proposal was first reported by the Miami Herald in February.
Complicating that matter is that Trump gave $15,000 to Gimenez's reelection campaign in January.
Local watchdog blogger Al Crespo however filed a complaint with the ethics committee that Trump essentially lobbied Gimenez during the initial round of golf without properly registering himself.
However, the ethics commission reported that they "determined that neither Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez nor real estate developer and presidential candidate Donald Trump violated lobbyist regulations when they initially discussed the future of the Crandon Park Golf Course."
The board reasoned that since no "proposal for which action was being sought" at the time of Gimenez and Trump's golf game, Trump's discussion could not be considered lobbying.
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However, Trump delegated an associate, Ed Russo, to be the point person on further discussion with the county. Crespo's complaint also targeted Russo. Russo met with county officials, Bruce Matheson and appeared before the Crandon Park Master Plan Advisory Committee to discuss the Trump plan without registering as a lobbyist in Miami-Dade. Once he became aware he needed to register he did so, and eventually met with county commissioners.
The commission found probable cause of ethics violations on Russo's behalf, but ultimately dismissed the charges because they concluded once Russo realized he needed to register as a lobbyist he did so.
As it turns out, Trump dropped his proposal to take over management of the course back in May after it was clear he faced significant opposition from some county commissioners.
Trump has now switched his ambitions from taking over management of Miami-Dade public golf courses to taking over management of the federal government.