Rivera, a former state representative and Florida House budget chairman, was once a prolific fundraiser with powerful political ties across the state. But he was hit with a pair of investigations into his personal and campaign finances — one by the state and one by the FBI and IRS — shortly after entering Congress. They have hung like a dark cloud over him since; he has been outraised by Garcia, and, unlike his congressional colleagues, has been not been invited to events with his party’s presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, who polls show has a slight edge on President Barack Obama.
The federal investigation is ongoing, separate from the FBI probe into Sternad’s primary campaign.
The Miami-Dade state attorney’s office and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement closed their joint investigation in April after concluding that the statute of limitations and ambiguous state laws did not allow them to charge Rivera with any of the 52 counts they had drafted against him. Prosecutors, however, wrote that they found Rivera had “essentially live[d] off” campaign contributions for almost a decade.
After the state investigation closed, the Florida ethics commission, which had received two complaints about Rivera’s finances in 2010 — including one from a Garcia donor — moved forward with its review. The commission was scheduled to take up the case in September, but delayed the hearing at Rivera’s request. When he again tried to push it until after Election Day, he was rebuffed.
The commission, made up of five Republicans and four Democrats, charged him on Wednesday with 11 ethics violations for failing to fully disclose his finances, misusing campaign funds and concealing a $1 million consulting contract with a dog track while he was still a state legislator.
After the charges were filed, Rivera did a blitz of interviews decrying the ethics commission as partisan and likening the charges to Garcia’s lawsuit two years ago trying to disqualify him from the ballot. And he dusted off a tactic he briefly employed in 2010 trying to link Garcia to Castro. Two years ago, Rivera called Garcia a Castro “henchman” — and then denied using the word. This year, he referred to him as a regime “lobbyist.”
Earlier in the campaign, Rivera had leveled other charges against Garcia, trying to paint him as “corrupt” during his tenure as director of the Office of Minority Economic Impact and Diversity at the U.S. Energy Department under Obama. Rivera has also suggested letters to Garcia’s campaign from the Federal Election Commission flagging financial reporting incidents amount to an “investigation,” though the FEC has said otherwise.
The issues in the campaign have played a supporting role.
Rivera, who has made a career of Cuba politics and whose core supporters remain older, Cuban-American voters, opposes U.S. travel to Cuba. He has also proposed amending federal law to sanction Cubans who arrive in the U.S. and return to the island before they earn citizenship — a process that usually takes up to five years. Garcia opposes tourist travel but favors the Obama administration’s policy that allowed more family and institutional travel and remittances.
Garcia has pounced on Rivera for not supporting the DREAM Act legislation that would give a path to citizenship to young people brought into the U.S. illegally as children by their parents. Rivera has countered that he has filed his own, more narrow immigration proposals that would allow undocumented young people who graduate from college or serve in the military to remain in the U.S., though not to obtain citizenship.