In politics, the big checks don’t go to candidates. They go to committees.
Even with higher limits approved last year, each donor can only give $1,000 to a single candidate for every two-year election cycle. But there are no limits on what donors can give to political committees that act as surrogate campaigns by supporting a candidate or attacking an opponent.
That explains why 12 of the largest single donations that make up the $2.3 million in the Herald’s analysis went to electioneering communications organizations — groups known as “ECOs” that raise money for advertising. Still, campaigns provide the mainstay of cash: 75 cents of every dollar raised for the candidates went to campaign accounts, while ECOs provided the remaining 25 cents.
There are four county-level ECOs in the Herald’s analysis, listed in order of the money raised: We the People, supporting Jose “Pepe” Diaz, $218,950; Miami-Dade County Working With You, supporting Sally Heyman, $151,950; Good Government Now, supporting Lynda Bell, $132,000; and Alliance For A Better Community, supporting Jean Monestime, $102,950. (Miami-Dade County Working With You recently transferred its funds to a county-level political action committee, or PAC, bearing the same name.)
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While the committees don’t mention a candidate in filing papers, their support has been confirmed by either committee officials, the candidates themselves, or made clear in expense reports (Miami-Dade Working With You reimbursed Heyman $92 for postage in November). Both PACs and ECOs can accept unlimited contributions, though there are restrictions on how that money can be spent. ECOs, for example, cannot explicitly endorse candidates, while PACs must limit contact with campaigns.
For local elections, political committees are supposed to register in the county or city where they plan to operate. But some committees that also dabble in state politics are registered in Tallahassee.
State committees are a force in local politics, too, and often draw far more money from large donors. Turnberry’s Fontainebleau, which wants to bring casino gambling to its iconic Miami Beach resort, donated almost $470,000 to 18 different statewide committees, candidates and the Republican Party of Florida in the past two years, according to election records.
Commissioner Javier Souto appears to have a state committee supporting him.
A state committee controlled by Coral Gables lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez — No. 5 on the Herald donor list — sent $15,000 to a state PAC called Citizens for Transparency and Integrity in Government last month shortly after Lopez hosted a fundraiser for Souto in Lopez’s Coral Gables law office. Lopez confirmed the money came from the Souto fundraiser.
Sosa, the powerful chairwoman of the commission, does not have a committee supporting her, according to several fundraisers and Sosa herself. That would make her the lone incumbent facing a true $1,000-per-donor limit.
“I tend to be sometimes old-fashioned,” she said. “People donate to my campaign and they know exactly what they’re donating to.”