The incumbent Miami-Dade commissioners who defeated challengers backed by Norman Braman in last week’s election had powerful friends of their own battling the wealthy Miami auto magnate.
While Braman aired attack ads against Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss, a maze of political committees campaigned against Braman — bankrolled in part by unions, the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Marlins.
Braman, who engineered last year’s recall of Mayor Carlos Alvarez, targeted the four commissioners up for reelection who voted for the new $634 million Marlins ballpark in Little Havana. Braman generally opposes using public money for sports facilities; the Dolphins have their eye on a roof for Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens.
The anti-Braman effort wasn’t limited to ads. A union group funded in part by the Dolphins and Marlins staged two protests at Braman’s auto dealerships and one near his Indian Creek home, and tried to link him to an ongoing absentee-ballot fraud investigation, though there is no evidence to back that up.
The most visible portion of the campaign: a television ad featuring Braman as a puppet master pulling the strings of the candidates he supported: Luis Garcia, Alison Austin, Shirley Gibson and Alice Pena. Garcia narrowly secured a runoff against Barreiro; Austin failed to make a runoff against Edmonson; and Gibson and Pena lost to Jordan and Moss, respectively.
“Shame on Norman Braman for trying to hijack democracy, trying to buy the election, trying to put his cronies in office, trying to bully the commission,” the ad said.
The ad was paid for by Miami Dade Citizens for Real Reform, a committee whose biggest donors, according to campaign finance reports, were the Marlins, Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria, the Dolphins and a separate, Dolphins-backed committee in Tallahassee, Job Growth for South Florida.
The Tallahassee committee’s funding — $99,900 over about 11 days — came from three contributions from the Dolphins, a corporation registered to Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and a corporation tied to Ross and his business associate, developer Jorge Pérez. The committee is registered to Matt Allen, the executive vice president and chief operating officer of Pérez’s company, The Related Group.
It’s not the first time either team or its officials has contributed to campaigns. The Marlins, for example, gave money to the committee defending Alvarez against the Braman-driven recall.
The teams, their owners, the Tallahassee committee and the corporation registered to Ross contributed $149,500 to Miami Dade Citizens for Real Reform and to two other local electioneering communications organizations (ECOs) with do-gooder names: Respect the Voters Choice and Government for the People.
The latter two ECOs also received $10,000 from IBEW PAC Voluntary Fund, a Washington D.C.-based political action committee for an electrical workers’ union. Respect the Voters Choice received $5,000 from Transparency in Government, an ECO linked to Commissioner Barreiro, who was benefitting from the anti-Braman campaign, and $1,000 from ImagineMiami PAC, run by Commissioner Xavier Suarez, who supported incumbents Jordan and Moss.
The committees targeted African-American voters, expenditures show. Either directly or through consultants, the ECOs paid for radio spots, robocalls, phone banks, volunteers knocking on doors and visits to churches “to educate the voters on what’s going on,” said Willis Howard, a consultant paid $5,000 by Miami Dade Citizens for Real Reform and $2,000 by Government for the People.