Well, it's not exactly news, but Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina -- a cash magnet whether he is getting large wads in unmarked envelopes delivered to a friend's home or multiple campaign checks -- was officially endorsed by the Latin Builders Association, as if the group needed an official press release so everyone would know.
Bernie Navarro, president elect of the LBA, pretty much summed it up when he said that since LBA members are "immersed in the building industry, we are extremely invested in the future direction of our local communities... and as a result it is imperative" to endorse Robaina.
And he is so right: The development, building and real estate industry are extremely invested in his candidacy through campaign contributions that more than suggest there is some kind of expected return. Take, for instance, the $18,000 that came from a real estate broker in Miami Lakes through his relatives and companies. Or the $38,000 (at least) from Roberto Cayon, former founding president of Hialeah's Ready State Bank, through his relatives and 70-some corporations that he either owns, is a principal in or is owned by one of his business partners, real estate developer Tom Cabrerizo, who is also partners with Yoram Izhak, who also gave about another $12,000 that Ladra found so far through 24 companies.
(By the way, Cabrerizo and Izhak are the two men who sent Miami Police Chief Miguel Esposito a cease and desist letter last month after the chief said on Spanish language radio that the men were connected to organized crime. Cabrerizo and Izhak were arrested in 2004 as part of a high-profile racketeering case, but federal prosecutors dropped the charges later. Shiver.)
Anyway, this practice of writing multiple campaign checks from your companies, your siblings and, sometimes, every junior partner in your firm is called "bundling" and it is a way of getting around the $500 maximum contribution requirement intended to keep special and financial interests or a small number of people with money from having a disproportionate amount of influence on a candidate or election.
And it is perfectly legal. But I don't know if it's always ethical. I mean, it looks like it might just be enthusiastic support when Pinecrest Councilman Joe Corradino or Hialeah car magnate Gus Machado give $1,500 (their own, their wife's and their business contrtibution). But when $2,500 come from developers Jose and Luis Boschetti, who are "a formidable presence in the South Florida condominium conversion market," according their website, and $5,000 in ten donations come from Jorge A. and Lisette L. Lopez, who own auto-related and real estate businesses in Hialeah, it looks like they are more invested.
Former State Rep. Miguel de Grandy, one of the panelists at an ethics and law seminar Friday at St. Thomas University (priceless irony, and photographed here sitting with former commissioner Katy Sorenson on the panel), said that no matter the price, it was part of the American Way. And at the end of the panel he participated in -- called "What Hat Do I Have On Today? Lawyers, Lobbysts and Elected Officials"(priceless, I tell ya) -- I asked him how he would characterize the contributions to Robaina from himself and his wife and his firm and his partner and his sister and her partner (that's $3,000 for anyone who lost count) and if that was done as a lawyer, or as lobbyist or as a private citizen and voter -- albeit one who specializes in government law, going before cities and county boards with his clients' land use, incorporation, annexation and rock quarry issues, among others, first at Greenberg Traurig and at his own firm since 2001.
"As a private citizen," de Grandy said, quickly, seemingly relieved to have that option. "It's part of the American system, part of everybody's first amendment. That's how it's done."
Yes, apparently, it is how it's done.
Former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre, who was on an earlier panel about judicial races, had a different spin on it, however. "They have an interest. Something is up," he told Ladra when she asked what he thought about a $38,000 contribution coming from the same family or business group. "That would require some special explanation from the people involved."
Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth, the symposium's guest speaker and a dean at the university, said: "That might raise my eyebrow."
But de Grandy -- who, by the way, was reprimanded just last year by the Florida Supreme Court and entered a guilty plea for violating legal ethics due to a conflict of interest because he represented two vendors competing for the same bag-wrapping contract at Miami International Airport -- also knows it doesn't pass what the conference participants called "the smell test."
"That's the problem I have with the premise of where you are going," de Grandy told me. "It is the purpose of election law to make sure everyone knows what everybody else is doing. There are 20 ways to get around that. The issue is not whether it's wrong to give money to a campaign. The issue is that it's transparent. So that people like you can point it out.
"Some people can be bought with a little bit of money. And some people take more," said de Grandy, who is now special counsel to the Florida House overseeing the redistricting process, on which he is considered an expert, having successfully challenged a 2006 initiative for clients Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario and Lincoln Diaz-Balart.
Well, it does certainly look like the price of tickets to the Elect Julio Robaina Ball fluctuate, depending on who's buying or how soon they confirm, or, something.