Two state agencies are investigating a possible violation of Florida statutes after an employee in the Miami-Dade State Attorney's Office shared a flyer that had campaign material for her boss' reelection.
In an email sent August 3, a State Attorney's Office employee shared a digital flyer for an upcoming episode of On Point With Rachel Tourgeman, an online talk show based out of Surfside. The flyer included two prominent campaign images of State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who is running for reelection in the August 18 primary.
The featured image of Rundle contains the words "RE-ELECT KATHERINE FERNANDEZ RUNDLE, OUR TRUSTED STATE ATTORNEY." The flyer advertises Rundle as the guest for the talk show on August 4, calling her "an authentic crime-fighter."
The flyer was shared by community outreach representative Mariangelli Fernandez using her official office email address. It was sent to multiple people, including a Miami-Dade County employee. (Mariangelli Fernandez is not related to Katherine Fernandez Rundle, according to an office spokesperson.)
According to Florida statutes, state, county, and municipal employees are barred from using their official authority or influence to interfere in an election or "[influence] another person’s vote or [affect] the result thereof."
Sending campaign flyers from an official government email might violate the state's elections code, according to the General Counsel Office of the Florida Division of Elections.
State Attorney's Office policies forbid employees from sending campaign materials from their work emails, requiring that they use their personal time and accounts if they wish to support a candidate, according to Lorna Salomon, a public-records custodian with Rundle's office.
A spokesperson for Rundle's office, Ed Griffith, told New Times via email that Fernandez violated office policies and was told not to do so again.
"This action violated the policies of the State Attorney’s Office and she was counseled to thoroughly review all materials that she sends from the office to ensure that they are purely worked [sic] related and instructed to be more careful in the future," Griffith wrote. "A staff-wide notice was immediately sent out reaffirming prohibitions about the use of state resources for any political campaign."
Griffith added that Fernandez said she hadn't reviewed the flyer in detail and thought it was just information about a speaking event that included the state attorney. He also said the staff had been told the rules about campaigning back in January.
Danny Suarez, a local political watchdog and former Civilian Investigative Panel member, says he received the email chain from a source and questioned the State Attorney's Office about the possible violation. After being told that Fernandez was reprimanded for the infraction, Suarez filed an ethics complaint against Rundle.
"Campaign flyers going from official government emails implies that this office endorses this candidate, and that's not what taxpayers pay for employees to do," Suarez says. "Anyone in Miami can clearly look at the flyer and see two sizable photos of Kathy with the words 're-elect.' There's no way [Fernandez] didn't know that was an advertisement."
Suarez filed his complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics and the Florida Elections Commission. In his complaint, he alleges that the emails imply possible coordination between Rundle's campaign and her office and that they violate the elections code.
The Florida Elections Commission handles campaign statute violations and investigates complaints of impropriety. If it determines a candidate has broken the rules, it can issue the candidate a civil fine, according to a commission spokesperson.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Miami New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Miami's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Campaign finance reports show that Rundle spent $450 for advertising with On Point With Rachel Tourgeman on July 29. The talk show's website says advertisers can buy one show's worth of ad time for $500. The show has not yet responded to questions from New Times regarding Rundle and the advertising package.
Other candidates included on the episode flyer include Miami-Dade County mayoral candidate Daniella Levine Cava and judicial candidate Miguel Mirabal. Levine Cava's expenditure report shows a $500 payment made to On Point on July 24. Mirabal's finance reports do not reflect any payments made to the show within the last two months.
Rundle has been Miami-Dade's state attorney for 27 years. Her challenger, Melba Pearson, is a fellow Democrat who previously worked as a prosecutor in Rundle's office.