Ken Russell Says He's Giving Back $77,000 He Raised After Besting Sarnoff

For months leading up to the District 2 commission race, Ken Russell's fundraising lagged far behind that of his chief rival, Teresa Sarnoff. By election day, he'd hauled in only $158,560 compared to Sarnoff's $747,000 war chest.

But hours after the shock results of the November 3 ballot — in which Russell doubled up Sarnoff's tally and forced a runoff — Russell says his phone started ringing off the hook, with big-money donors suddenly eager to back him. 

In fact, Russell's campaign says, he doubled his whole campaign haul in just the week after that result as he prepared for a runoff with Sarnoff. Suddenly, every developer and law firm in Miami was eager to throw cash at a candidate they'd paid little attention to before the surprise result. 

"It started to hurt my stomach," Russell tells New Times. "It made me realize that this is business as usual in Miami politics."

Russell says he officially stopped taking donations last week, and now he's returning the bulk of that cash to those donors. Final campaign reports won't be submitted to the city until 5 p.m. today, but Russell's campaign says the reports will show he's giving $77,650 back to the donors who came out of the woodwork after he vanquished Sarnoff. 

(The campaign's election communications organization, Miami Can Do Better, has already submitted its final report, showing it raised $22,000 after the election; the rest of the funds come from Russell's campaign, which hasn't submitted paperwork yet.)  

"I don't want to give even the perception of impropriety, because this isn't the kind of campaign we were running from day one," Russell says. 

True, it's a lot easier to give all of that money back knowing Russell doesn't have an actual campaign to run leading up to the November 17 runoff. Although the city will still hold the election, it won't count any votes toward Sarnoff, who withdrew last week. 

But Russell points out he could have rolled those funds into a PAC or looked into other options for carrying the donations to another campaign down the road. 

"I want voters to know we're serious about changing the way this district operates," he says.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink