FEC Complaint Claims Illegal Donation Funneled to Miami Mayor Super PAC | Miami New Times


FEC Complaint Claims Artificial Flower Co. Illegally Funneled Money to Suarez PAC

An artificial flower business linked to a man from Guangzhou, China, donated $500K to the super PAC supporting Mayor Suarez, according to the Campaign Legal Center.
A $500K donation in support of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez's presidential bid is the subject of a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission.
A $500K donation in support of Miami Mayor Francis Suarez's presidential bid is the subject of a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission. Photo by Francis Suarez via Facebook
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In a complaint filed with the Federal Election Commission, the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center alleges that an obscure online flower-bouquet company was used as a straw donor to illegally conceal the source of donations to a super PAC backing Miami Mayor Francis Suarez's presidential candidacy.

PassionForest LLC made a $500,000 contribution to SOS America PAC in October 2022. According to the complaint, the company at that time was 11 months old and had an Amazon storefront that listed artificial flowers for sale.

The Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan, nonprofit watchdog group founded by attorney and election-financing expert Trevor Potter, claims PassionForest's business activity was limited and that its artificial flower-selling operation has mostly ceased, with only two of its 21 products currently listed as available on Amazon.

"It is highly improbable that PassionForest garnered sufficient funds from selling artificial flowers online in its first eleven months of operation to make a $500,000 political contribution," the complaint alleges. "It is noteworthy that its artificial flower business appears to have shuttered around the time of the contribution."

The Campaign Legal Center is seeking relief for alleged violations of the Federal Election Campaign Act.

Neither SOS America nor Suarez is named as a respondent in the complaint.

According to the complaint, a trademark application for PassionForest was filed in the U.S. four days before the company was registered in Delaware in November 2021. The applicant listed an address in Tianhe District, Guangzhou, in China, "raising the specter that this straw donor scheme was used to conceal illegal foreign national contributions," the Campaign Legal Center claims.

Days after the contribution was made, the center alleges, the company's trademark application was abandoned.

"When someone uses an entity like PassionForest, LLC to make a major political contribution to a super PAC while hiding their identity from voters, it’s a serious violation of the laws meant to ensure transparency and prevent corruption in our elections," Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at Campaign Legal Center, stated in a press release.

In a statement provided to New Times, SOS America claims the complaint is "nothing more than a political attack and it will be seen for what it is."

"No surprise liberal special interests and their allies in the media are lobbing political attacks that are intended to undercut the only Hispanic Republican candidate. His candidacy worries them because of his strong record as a successful conservative who attracts broad support," the committee says. "It is our understanding that the complaint makes no accusations whatsoever against SOS America PAC or the Mayor."

According to the Campaign Legal Center, SOS America has spent $3 million to date on Suarez's 2024 presidential campaign. Among other activities, the super PAC created an artificial intelligence chatbot with Suarez's voice and likeness to answer questions about the mayor and his presidential aspirations.

PassionForest does not appear to have a public website or any property in Miami-Dade County, according to the complaint.

New Times sent a copy of the complaint to a representative of Suarez's campaign but has not received a response to a request for comment on the case.

In the memo field for reporting the $500,000 contribution, the SOS America committee described the company as a "flower wholesaler," followed by a note in the "miscellaneous text page" that "contributor info has been requested for PassionForest LLC."
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