This past April 21, Frank Artiles resigned from the Florida Senate after getting caught using the N-word in front of black colleagues. Mere hours after he stepped down, the Miami Herald nailed him for hiring Hooters waitresses as campaign "consultants."
But from May to September, Artiles charged his campaign account monthly for cell-phone service and rent at his former district office, state filings show. Although those payments might have been justifiable (it's possible he had an office lease or cell-phone contract to pay), other expenditures were perhaps less explainable — including a $938 August 22 "printing" charge and checks cut to his own company.
Records show that on September 22, he sent $1,155.46 to Artiles 2 Solutions LLC, a company he owns, according to state records. The charge was listed simply as "campaign expenses." He also sent the same company two other checks after resigning — one in June for $570.68 and one in July for $342.36. Those payments were listed for "cell phones."
State records show he incorporated the LLC in 2002 with his wife Aimee. Expenditure reports from his previous legislative campaigns show he has regularly sent checks to the LLC for phone and internet services throughout his lawmaking career, beginning in 2013. He was first elected to the state House in 2010.
In total, he spent $31,278.58 after his April 21 resignation. The majority of that money came six days after he left office, in the form of a $25,000 payment to McNicholas & Associates, a Stuart public-relations firm.
According to the state Division of Elections, he filed to run for reelection in 2018 on December 6, mere weeks after he won his District 40 election against Democrat Dwight Bullard. Artiles is still listed as an active candidate online and could claim the expenses as legitimate if he plans to run for office in 2018.
Artiles did not respond to phone, text, and email messages sent to his listed cell phone number and campaign email address.
Before resigning in disgrace, Artiles was known for proposing a North Carolina-style "bathroom bill" that would have forced transgender people to use the restrooms of their birth-assigned genders. But in April, the Herald/Tampa Bay Times Tallahassee Bureau reported he had used the N-word in front of black colleagues (to refer to six white lawmakers), called Senate President Joe Negron a "pussy," and termed two Tallahassee lobbyists "faggots." He resigned after a week of sustained controversy.
But questions remain about his so-called campaign expenditures since he stepped down. Rules governing this money are complicated and sometimes vague: According to state law, a candidate may use leftover campaign funds in one of four ways: Return the money to contributors; donate the cash to a charity; give "not more than $25,000 to the affiliated party committee or political party of which the candidate is a member"; donate it "to the political subdivision for which you were a candidate for office and deposit it in the subdivision's general fund"; or give it to the state's general fund if the giver was a candidate for statewide office.
But state law says a candidate must disburse all of his or her accounts within 90 days — and it's been six months since April. The question is whether Artiles still plans to run for office:
Except as provided in subsection (6), each candidate who withdraws his or her candidacy, becomes an unopposed candidate, or is eliminated as a candidate or elected to office shall, within 90 days, dispose of the funds on deposit in his or her campaign account and file a report reflecting the disposition of all remaining funds. Such candidate may not accept any contributions, nor may any person accept contributions on behalf of such candidate, after the candidate withdraws his or her candidacy, becomes unopposed, or is eliminated or elected. However, if a candidate receives a refund check after all surplus funds have been disposed of, the check may be endorsed by the candidate and the refund disposed of under this section. An amended report must be filed showing the refund and subsequent disposition.
And the other question is whether the payments can be explained as "legitimate campaign expenses" — the legal hurdle Artiles must clear to prove he wasn't spending leftover campaign cash on himself. State records show he has not received any new campaign contributions since
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This wouldn't nearly be the first time Artiles has made a less-than-ethical campaign gaffe: In 2011, local blogger Elaine Del Valle caught him living outside his district by knocking on his front door and observing him watching a Miami Heat game in gym shorts and socks.
And earlier this year, the Herald revealed that Artiles took free trips to Walt Disney World and the Daytona 500 on behalf of NextEra Energy, the parent company of Florida Power & Light, Miami's much-ballyhooed electricity monopoly. After reporter Mary Ellen Klas questioned him, he "updated" his political committee reports to show nearly $2,000 in free trips.
And then there were the aforementioned campaign "consultants." Many observers believe that scandal was what ultimately pushed Artiles out of office. Klas, the Herald's veteran state capital reporter, nailed him for paying a former Playboy model and a Hooters "calendar girl" thousands of dollars for unexplained contributions.