Monday, June 27, 2011

Campaign $pending $tays a $ecret

We still don't know, with one day left to choose, how much really has been invested in the frentic and expensive bid to become the recall replacement mayor of Miami-Dade for the next 16 months.

Together, and as of the last report filed earlier this month, both candidates had more than $3.5 million to put toward their efforts. Former Hialeah mayor Julio Robaina had $1.33 million in his campaign coffers, plus another $1 million or so in six PACs (Ladra has since dug up a seventh Robaina PAC, so there's likely more than that), while Carlos Gimenez raised about $634,000 in his campaign and another $660,000 in his PAC.

But only the candidates and their respective political machinery operatives know how much more they raised and spent since the last cut-off period, which ended June 3. They've had three more weeks to raise and spend and we don't know where that came from and where it went. That's because the last campaign finance reports due (last Friday) before the election were electronically received by the elections department, but are not a public record until the hard copies get in. Probably through snail mail. Maybe this afternoon. Maybe tomorrow.

"The statute is very clear on when it becomes a public record.It's not considered received until we get thehard copy. We can't even see them. We just know they are there," said elections department spokeswoman Christina White.

And that's convenient for the candidates. So much for the intent of the law, which we have to believe is for voters to know about the financial picture, not just the campaign staff.

But even if voters get the information late, the campaign reports won't be officially late. "The statute says as long as it's postmarked by the due date then it's considered on time," White said.

"If they put it in the mail on time and it is postmarked by the deadline and we don't get it until the day after the election, that's perfectly fine within the confines of the statute," she added.

So the statute should be changed. The whole point of campaign finance reporting is so that voters know who is financing the candidates and how they are spending those funds. Are there more special interest or bundled donations? Are they renting vans to shuttle elderly voters to early voting sites? Are they paying absentee ballot brokers or "volunteers" to stand with signs? People should know these things before they vote, not after. Ladra contacted the staff on both campaigns and asked them to provide us with the finance reports that they already have because they mailed them and also filed them electronically. No answer yet. (You will know when I know).

Many campaigns wait to report big money or questionable contributions and costs in their last reports (there is one final campaign finance report due 90 days -- that's three months -- after the election and that one is usually quite interesting also). They can do this several ways, some legal, some not. Many campaign staffers don't get paid (or don't get really paid the balance of what they've really been costing all along) until the last report (legal). And "soft money" can be spent and not reported until the very end (illegal).

What Ladra doesn't understand is why do these contradictions exist. Why are there finance disclosure laws that allow the candidates and their political handlers such a big loophole? Seems that if the intent was truly to make it transparent, the electronical filing would be a public record. Why is it exempted from public records laws?

Perhaps these are questions for our next mayor, but I won't hold my breath. Because the loopholes give the candidates an advantage.

And leaves the voters in the dark.

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