Thursday, April 21, 2011

Proliferation of the PACs

Newly former county commissioner Carlos Gimenez has more money for that mayoral bid than we first thought.

More than half a mil, to be exact. Because he has two accounts.

The campaign fund is the one with $229,295 in contributions, but the PAC Gimenez formed in November has raised more than that, with $277,716 in contributions. Gimenez total: $507,000.

So the race cash gap is smaller between him and Hialeah Mayor Julio Robaina, who we reported last month had more than twice as much as Gimenez with his $611,000 war chest. Robaina has his own PAC working for him, but The Truth For Our Community PAC, run by his ally and Hialeah Housing Authority chair Julio Ponce, only has abut $20,000 left in it's account, according to the report due April 11 (which tells Ladra that another PAC is in the making). We do have to add another $42,700 to the Robaina campaign fund for what we assume are Robaina-related expenses. Why? The PAC, formed in 2008 to fight slot machine gambling -- not because it's wrong, but because the state legislature had the you-know-whats to leave out Hialeah Race Track, owned by a family that "bundles" its contributions to those they support. How dare they? But the spending went on through May of 2010 mostly adding phone bills they had likely forgotten about months earlier, and then stopped. Until December. About a month before Robaina announced he would run for mayor. Expenses include an $18,900 December payment for a survey by NY-based McLaughlin & Associates and another $3,000 survey by Gainseville-based Data Targeting last month, $12,500 in consulting services -- including $2,500 to Hugo Arza, disgraced former State Rep. Ralph Arza's cousin, who made $5,000 from Robaina's campaign account -- $2,200 in advertising, and $2,450 in donations to organizations where they might also have had event tables. These include Junta Patriotica, The Portrait of Empowerment, some South Florida After School program, the Christian Family Coalition and a Sisters and Brothers Forever. Looks like campaigning to me.

Gimenez, chatting very friendly-like with opponent Marcelo Llorente (not everyone has to be antagonistic) opened his PAC in November with the intention, he said, of using it to push for reform efforts and get some name recognition. The last expense reports submitted earlier this month show many of Gimenez' campaign staff getting paid also from Common Sense Now. Between them, JC Flores, Gimenez's campaign manager, his fundraiser Brian Goldmeier (who worked for Alex Sink in South Florida) and his pollster Dario Moreno (an FIU professor and former director of the Metropolitan Center) got paid more than $60,000 through this PAC. The trio got another $8,250 from the mayoral campaign, which only started spending in February (is that double dipping?) The PAC also used Gimenez' Georgia-based mailer and printing firm, spending about $16,000 there. The official Gimenez campaign has only spent about $2,600 on that mailing firm so far. So look for more mailers to be about the issues than the candidate.

Because EOC rules prohibit the group from endorsing any one candidate or saying to vote for one candidate. They may ask you to thank Carlos Gimenez for his years of service. They may tell you that term limits would be better with eight years, as Carlos Gimenez had suggested. They may remind you that Carlos Gimenez voted against the Marlins Stadium. They have to speak to messages that would bolster the Gimenez name -- objective number one.

"The political practicality is ultimately about raising money and getting your name out there is very expensive, especially when you have no name I.D.," Flores said, pointing out that Gimenez serves as chair of the PAC openly and transparently. In fact, the campaign office on the 9th floor of a downtown Coral Gables building has been the "Common Sense Now" office, as shown on the plaque, until just recently.

Even Llorente has a PAC. A New Day for Miami-Dade (technically an EOC, which, as we established, is a PAC), was formed in February and has collected $17,500 we need to add to Llorente's $369,000 total. We don't know if he is the chair or on the paperwork, but we know it's his committee because one of the expenses is $1,162 to reimburse Llorente for meals and travel.

Ladra does not like PACs because often they are used as shadow organizations for a special interest or a candidate, such as the Truth for our Robaina Community PAC or political-junk-mail-king-turned-political-consultant Keith Donner's three PACs in Miami Beach which he formed the same year he ran a campaign for Miami Beach commission candidate. Those PAC names were Clean Up Miami Beach and Women's Voter Coalition of Miami Beach and Keep Miami Beach Safe. Look at all those names again, please: Truth. Clean. Safe. How manipulative can you guys get? Donner should win an award for the names he comes up with. His new PAC, The Accountability Project, was seemingly formed to hide the source of muckraking ads and attacks against Gimenez (it is partly funded by the Robaina PAC) and Coral Gables commission candidate Brad Rosenblatt, who lost earlier this month to Frank "the Cuban Kerdyk" Quesada (we believe those attacks were funded by either Gonzalo Sanabria or the Gables police union, which endorsed Gonzalo Sanabria).

Another big issue for watchdogs like Ladra is the money trail. It gets much blurrier and harder to follow in most PACs. Such as when Miami Voice gets a third party contribution from the just-reactivated company owned by PAC chairwoman Vanessa Brito, who admitted to Ladra it came from a "client" who wanted her to put it toward the recall effort without coming on the report -- which we believe is illegal and have heard called a political version of money laundering -- especially since we know she has no other clients. Or when a lack of any limits allows billionaire car dealer and downtown property owner Norman Braman to sink $1 million or more of "his own money" -- he deposits $150,000 one day and then $250,000 again the very next day but, of course, nobody is going to question him because he's a billionaire. Right? I mean, c'mon. Of course, it's his money.

Whatever. Ok? We don't like PACs. It's established. So Ladra naturally growled at Gimenez and Flores when she noticed Too Late For Common Sense. But upon further inspection, this PAC looks a little different. First off, a $10,000 contribution from Coral Gables contractor Rafael Garcia-Toledo, and from car dealer Alan Potamkin, and from John Dubois and Terremark Worldwide, Coastal Construction, Nifah & Partners (engineering), The American Institute for Public Safety and EMS Management is tons more transparent than $50,000 through more than 70 "bundled" contributions from a group of shady business partners in real estate development and holdings, which is on Robaina's campaign report. (Why didn't they just give the Truth PAC the $50K?). Plus, any muckraking would come back to the former commissioner -- not some Unaccountable Project that won't tell anyone who funded the attacks.

"I purposely made sure my name was on it so if there's anything negative, you will know it's me," Gimenez told me. "Not some shadow group."

See? He thinks so too.

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