GOP Frontrunner Carlos Curbelo Has a History of Approving Contracts For Campaign Donors

via Miami-Dade School Board
Carlos Cubelo, left, at a high school pep rally
For years, Florida's 26th U.S. Congressional District has been defined less by politics than by outright scandal. Two years ago, Republican David Rivera lost the seat amid revelations that he had funded a shadow campaign in the Democratic primary and accepted over $500,000 in secret payments from a dog track. Then his successor, Democrat Joe Garcia, became mired in his own controversy when an absentee ballot fraud ensnared his chief of staff.

Both Rivera and Garcia are running again this year, but the front-running Republican is Carlos Curbelo, a 34-year-old Miami-Dade School Board member whose campaign is centered on the promise of transparency and an end to the embarrassing scandals.

"Your contribution," reads the tagline of Curbelo's congressional campaign website, "will help put an end to the scandals and fraud that have haunted our community for too long."

But Curbelo's own record on the board shows he also hasn't been immune to the long reach of special interests.

Between 2010 and 2013 Curbelo, while representing District 7 on the board, voted roughly a dozen times to award school board contracts to companies that had donated a total of $25,450 to his well-funded 2010 school board campaign.

After announcing his congressional campaign in 2013, Curbelo also received $3,500 towards the House race from three companies whose projects he had earlier supported in school board votes. The school board donations came from law firms, construction companies, even a vending machine company.

The largest were from affiliates of the MCM construction company, whose senior manager, board president and numerous board vice presidents all donated a total of $12,000 between June and October 2010.

More than a year later, in January 2012, Curbelo, along with the rest of the school board, voted in favor of numerous contracts for MCM, as well as several other construction companies that had donated to his race, for projects costing taxpayers between $50,001 and $2 million.

Among other examples where Cubelo's vote went toward companies that fueled his campaigns:

* The James B. Pirtle Construction Company donated $500 to Curbelo in 2010; at a school board meeting on September 3, 2013 Curbelo voted in favor of commissioning the Pirtle for a project called "New Grade 6-12 Facility and MAST Academy Renovations." 

*The Becker and Poliakoff law firm has donated $500 to School Board District 7 Candidate Curbelo three times between 2010 and 2012 (for a total of $1,500); on July 17, 2013 Curbelo voted in favor of contracting a group of law firms that included Becker and Poliakoff. 

*Between August 2010 and October 2013 the president of AGC Electric donated $2,000; in October 2012 and again on September 2013, Curbelo voted in favor of school board contracts for AGC Electric.

In a statement sent to Riptide, Curbelo's campaign denied there was any tie between the donations and the votes. "Carlos has always voted based on the recommendations of the school district's professional staff and in advancement of the interests of students, teachers, and taxpayers," says Nicole Rapanos, his campaign manager. "Suggestions to the contrary are politically motivated attacks with the goal of deflecting attention from Joe Garcia's history of scandal and fraud." 

The school board votes typically passed unanimously, and Curbelo didn't necessarily break any county ethics rules by favoring companies that gave cash to his campaigns. Before each vote, commissioners are given the option of abstaining if they believe they have a conflict of interest, but there are no rules mandating such abstentions.

"It's up to the individual," says Joe Centerino of the Miami Dade Ethics Commission, "to decide when that might be something that interferes with their ability to be objective and fair."

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