Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Gables PAC funds smear campaign

A four-page mailer received by some Coral Gables residents in the past few days calls commission candidate Brad Rosenbalatt a deadbeat over stock photos of $100 bills and records of a 2000 arrest for embezzlement.

The disclaimer says it is a paid political advertisement by The Accountability Project, a political action committee formed by Keith Donner, who is also a political consultant who (surprise, surprise) would not tell Ladra today who had paid for the mailer.

But we traced some of it to Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina and the United Teachers of Dade, a union which Donner has represented in the past (and might now).

Donner, who started his business with a mass mailing company and ran the 2009 campaigns for Gables Commissioner Ralph Cabrera (won) and Miami Beach candidate Fredric Karlton (lost), said he was not working for any of the candidates in the Coral Gables election. But he would not say who paid for the mailer when Ladra asked him directly and repeatedly.

"It's right there in all the public disclosures. We will be filing disclosures throughout the campaign cycle," Donner said. "All contributions and expenditures have been disclosed and will be disclosed in a timely accurate manner."

To his credit, Donner, a pro-annexation activist who we met in a previous life when we covered Coral Gables for the daily paper, was suspicious of me. First, he asked if I lived and voted in the Gables (I do not; unincorporated Miami-Dade and proud of it!). And then he expressed concern I might be working for another candidate. "Are you getting compensation from anyone for writing this?" is a fair question. And I answered it. Truth is, as I've publicly disclosed before, I did dip my feet in political media consulting before I decided it wasn't for me. But, no, I am not getting paid by anyone to raise these questions (same lame deflection defense the Miami Voice recall backers use when I ask who funds them, which means they are hiding something,which they still have not disclosed). Yet, after I explained that to Mr. Donner, and to give him further comfort told him I was currently overdrawn at the bank and living with my parents (the truth shall set you free), he still did not tell me where the Accountability Project got its money.

Doesn't accountability mean transparency?

Instead, he laughed. "You can ask me that four times or five times and you will get the same answer. We disclose all contributions and expenditures in a timely manner. All our filings are public records. I file all the time." (And, for different PACs. More on that later).

Well, public records show that the Unaccountability Project raised $96,000 so far. That's more than most of the candidates in the Gables election have put together. The money came in gifts of $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 (Ron Book gave $2,500) from unions and associations and corporations whose owners are more corporations, making it harder to trace. But we were able to link the first $10,000 gift made by the "Informing Our Community," which is not listed in Florida corporate records,by its Miami Lakes address. That property is divided into 10 parcels owned by different corporations. But two of them came back to Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who is running for the county mayor's seat, and his chief of staff, Alex Ruiz.

Donner said he was not working on any county mayoral campaign, either. When asked what interest Robaina and his people might have in the Gables race, he only warned Ladra not to make "false inferences" and that the timing of the contribution, a day after the PAC was formed in August, made the reference "stale." Really? Okay. To clarify, because context is nothing if it is not clear: I am not inferring anything. I found, through a lengthy search of public records, that the owners of the property listed as a $10,000 contributor to the Gables PAC are tied to the mayor of Hialeah. I asked why (because I don't infer, I ask, point out and connect the dots). I got no answer, really. But I will keep asking.

Others who contributed to the Non-Accountability Project were Arthur and Andrew Hertz, with two $5,000 donations from their media companies, and several unions (you can see them all here: for yourselves, and infer whatever you like). The biggest gift came from the Teachers for Public School Excellence, a PAC of the United Teachers of Dade, which Donner has done work for in the past. He would not say if he continues to lobby or work on the union's behalf ("I just don't talk about my clients."), but I know a bunch of teachers who would be downright outraged if they knew that a whole $30,000 of their lobby and PR money was being spent on a smear campaign in a city of Coral Gables election.

"There are a number of people in town who are appalled at Brad Rosenblatt's felony arrest , personal bankruptcy and his tax lie. Call it old fashioned but it is truly amazing that he is running," said Donner, who, by the way, did talk to Brad as early as late 2009 about working on the campaign, but was eventually not chosen. So any amazement is feigned.

Reached at his office Wednesday, Rosenblatt told Ladra he was disgusted by the campaign, but was not going to worry much about it. He said those tactics do not work in Coral Gables.

"This is gross, and the people here will not be swayed by grossness," Rosenblatt said.

Donner maybe considers it an education campaign (making the teachers money appropriate?): "If a Brad Rosenblatt supporter truly believes that he is qualified to serve on the commission, then no matter what is said about Brad Rosenblatt, it can't hurt him," Donner, who lives in High Pines, just outside Coral Gables, said. "That is how it works. If on the other hand you are deeply troubled by his record of financial mismanagement, then you will look seriously at the records."

We are deeply troubled, Keith, by what appears to be a lack, or shortage, of transparency.

His answer: "The law requires disclosure of campaign expenditures and contributions on a schedule. We adhere to the schedule. If somehow that schedule does not suit the needs of certain people, then I suggest then change the law."

Well, apparently it is suiting his needs. This is why PACs and such groups like "electioneering communications organziations" (read: PACs in disguise) are dangerous. Because they can hide the money and the people who are really financing and driving their efforts.

And that's not very accountable at all.

1 comment:

  1. Gables PAC? The Coral Gables Citizen's Political Action Committee, commonly known as the "Gables PAC" is not involved in any manner in the smear campaign of city commission candidates. Certainly there are many PACs, and as suggested, often hide the identity of their members, but in the case of the "Gables PAC" this is not the case at all. Gables PAC members are prominent citizens of their community who make no effort to hide their identity, motives or agenda.


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