Update 8/26/16: Prosecutors have declined to press charges in this case, ruling that Korge's offer amounted to a pledge to help raise $25,000 for Bullard, rather than a direct gift of that much money from his own campaign or personal accounts. “I am thrilled that the State Attorney’s investigation has cleared me of any wrongdoing,” Korge said in a statement. "It is unfortunate that Senator Bullard chose to lie to voters purely for his own political gain. This is the type of dirty politics that makes voters sick.” Bullard did respond to an email from New Times about the ruling.
Update 3:30: Ana Rivas Logan has now bowed out of the District 40 race, citing "in-the-gutter campaign tactics" and a need to care for her parents. Her full statement is at the bottom of the post.
In an already wild political season, first-time Democratic candidate Andrew Korge has been an agent of chaos. Korge started off in a heated race for state Senate against sitting GOP Sen. Anitere Flores and then hastily switched last month to District 40, where sitting Democratic Sen. Dwight Bullard was already running.
Bullard says Korge — the son of uber-Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge — had an easy solution to that traffic jam: The well-to-do first-timer offered the senator $25,000 to switch to another district, Bullard recently told the Miami Herald . (The story was first broken by Sunshine State News.) "The guy with all the money tried to bully me out of my seat by offering up money," he told the daily.
Now, Miami New Times has confirmed, the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office has opened a probe into those allegations.
"The State Attorney's Office reached out to me and mentioned the Herald article," Bullard says. "I have to do a followup on that with their investigator."
Ed Griffith, a spokesperson for the prosecutor's office, confirmed Bullard's story, though he notes that "Bullard has yet to respond" to the inquiry. (Update 1:20 p.m.: Griffith says Bullard has now been in touch with prosecutors to discuss the case.)
Korge, meanwhile, blasted his new Democratic opponent over the claims. He says, to the contrary, that Bullard is the one who solicited the $25,000 while waffling over whether to stay in the race.
"Dwight Bullard’s allegations are unequivocally false," Korge says in a statement sent to New Times. He also notes a Herald piece suggesting Bullard had considered switching on his own. "It was Dwight who asked me if I would raise money for his campaign if he switched districts from 40 to 38."
But Bullard sticks by his allegations.
"He most certainly offered me $25,000 in exchange for switching races. I found it insulting then, and I find it even more insulting that he chooses not to man up and admit that he did it," Bullard says. "The issue Mr. Korge will have to reconcile is that I'm not the only person he told about the $25,000. He literally allowed his mouth to write a check that his body can't cash."
Korge says his opponent is just making political hay out of the situation.
"Dwight Bullard has completely mischaracterized and exploited for political gain our conversations by saying that I offered him 'cash'... Such an allegation is nothing more than a manipulation of the truth. Plus, now that we are running against each other, he is making this an issue for political gain," Korge says. "I welcome any inquiry by the appropriate authorities so that any manipulation of the facts and misconceptions that have been created for political gain can be cleared up."
But Bullard says that's nonsense.
"The notion that he thinks I'd use this or him for political gain is wishful on his part, considering that I'm the current office-holder," Bullard says. "I hope to put this issue to rest sooner rather than later."
Korge's entry into elected politics has made waves among elected Democrats, some of whom have accused him of "shopping" for the best district to run in. Korge initially eyed District 38, where longtime Sen. Gwen Margolis seemed to be nearing the end of her career, before settling into 39, where Flores mounted a strong campaign.
Margolis surprisingly withdrew from the race, leaving a free-for-all in her district, but late last month Korge elected to move to Bullard's district days before the filing deadline. The sitting Democrat has had anemic fundraising, while Korge's connections have meant a sizable war chest.
There's still another Democratic challenger in 40 — former school board member Ana Rivas Logan, who also told the Herald that Korge asked her to switch districts (though she says he didn't offer her any money to do so).
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The winner of next month's Democratic primary will have to face GOP Sen. Frank Artiles, who has $345,000 in the bank as of last month.
Update 3:30: Here's Rivas Logan's statement on leaving the race:
As you know, six weeks ago I decided to run for the state senate in an effort to continue my long time service to my community. I did so with the appreciation that I was not running against any Democrat, but for a set of issues and values that are sorely lacking in the Florida Senate. I embarked on the journey because the Republican candidate is exactly the opposite of what our community needs and deserves.
With that said, running a campaign requires one’s full attention. In recent days, I have learned that I will need to tend to my parents care. This is no simple task and one that I cannot balance between a competitive race and the well-being of my family.
Further, the race changed at the close of qualifying and this has a major impact on our path forward. I firmly believe that I could win this race, but unfortunately, know all too well that this race could turn to distractions rather than focus on the best ideas on how to deliver a strong education system and fighting to raise the wages for our workforce.
Balancing the care my parents need and what will be in-the-gutter campaign tactics by some in the race, I have chosen to suspend my campaign today knowing that my future in public service is not over.
I will continue to be a forceful voice for the values and principles we share and do all I can to help grow the support for our next president of the United States, Hillary Clinton.
Thank you for always believing in me.
With much love,
Ana Rivas Logan