This year, it was more lucrative to raise campaign dollars for the mayor of Miami-Dade County than it was to actually serve as the mayor of Miami-Dade County.
Brian Goldmeier, the leading professional fundraiser for county politicians, collected about $190,000 in fees this year for securing donations for the reelection of Mayor Carlos Gimenez. The mayor, who cut his salary in half when he took office in 2011, earned about $144,000 in the same time period.
Gimenez isn’t Goldmeier’s only client in County Hall. The 32-year-old consultant also works for the reelection efforts of Commissioners Audrey Edmonson and Dennis Moss, whose donor base helped boost the income for Goldmeier’s BYG Strategies to $270,000 for the year — easily making him the top recipient of local campaign cash during 2015.
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Tracking campaign donations in Miami-Dade races offers a lesson in the cost of political influence in county government. But following where the money ultimately lands helps illustrate the mechanics of local politics. Lesson No. 1: raising money can be expensive for a candidate and profitable for a consultant.
“He’s got the connections,” said Moss, who has raised about $383,000 through his campaign and political committee and paid out roughly 10 cents of every dollar to Goldmeier’s Miami firm. “He understands the issues. He’s persistent as hell. And I emphasize: persistent as hell.”
For this story, we sorted through 11 months worth of expense reports for the eight incumbents and one challenger raising money in County Hall races. About $1.4 million has been spent through November. Among the highlights:
▪ Xavier Suarez, a county commissioner with an interest in running for mayor, made the year’s largest single expenditure: $250,000 on anti-Gimenez television ads that ran in September. Suarez’s political committee, Imagine Miami, cut two $125,000 checks on Sept. 1 and 4 to NPN Holdings, a media company.
At the time, Suarez was aggressively positioning himself as a potential challenger to Gimenez, and the television ads criticizing the mayor’s proposed budget wiped out most of what was then Imagine Miami’s $300,000 war chest. After receipts from an October fundraising banquet at the Airport Doubletree fell short of expectations and Gimenez raised more than $1 million in that month alone, Suarez is sounding less like someone eager to take on an incumbent mayor.
“I’m really, really, really happy with the way things have gone in the last few weeks,” Suarez said, citing what he called a “great” meeting with Gimenez last week and support for his plan to shift toll revenue into transit projects. “I’m a helluva lot more satisfied than I was right after the budget season.”
▪ School Board member Raquel Regalado’s district chief of staff is moonlighting for Regalado’s effort to be elected the mayor of Miami-Dade County. Anna Parekh, Regalado’s top aide in the school system’s District 6 office, was paid about $5,000 this year by Serving Miamians, a political committee backing Regalado’s run. All payments were for “research,” according to expenditure reports, and are part of the roughly $18,700 Serving Miamians has paid Parekh since 2013.
“She can do on the weekends whatever she wants,” Regalado said in an interview. “I’m her boss. As long as I know about it, it’s okay.”
Regalado said she cleared the arrangement with the school system’s personnel department. State law generally protects government workers’ rights to participate in campaigns in their off-time, and Regalado noted Serving Miamians is technically an independent entity led by someone else. The school board does not require employees to file notice of outside employment, or to obtain approval for moonlighting.
The Serving Miamians account has also paid for some of Regalado’s largest expenditures in her bid to unseat Gimenez in 2015, including $35,000 to former television anchor Brian Andrews for media work, a $66,000 holiday mailer featuring Regalado and her two children, and $27,000 to her younger brother, Jose, for social media work and to produce videos where she touts her candidacy and criticizes Gimenez.
In a statement, Gimenez campaign spokesman Jesse Manzano-Plaza said Serving Miamians should be renamed the “Regalado Family Foundation” for the nearly $100,000 it has paid Regalado family members since 2013. Regalado’s father, Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado, used the committee in his 2013 reelection campaign. Raquel was his campaign manager, and collected about $10,000 from committee, which has paid Jose Regalado about $75,000 in the last three years.
In response, Raquel Regalado wrote: “It’s sad that someone who has been an elected official for over a decade has to hide behind hired guns to misinform the public…I am prepared to debate Carlos Gimenez on this and any other issue anytime, anywhere.”
▪ Joe Carollo, best known for his stormy tenure as Miami mayor during the Elián Gonzalez saga, earns $1,500 a week in consulting fees from Gimenez’s reelection effort. On the payroll since March, Carollo has received $6,000 a month through a Pembroke Pines company called Consulting Associates Group. He’s earned $54,000 through November, just slightly less than Manzano-Plaza, Gimenez’s top campaign aide.
Gimenez served as Miami city manager when Carollo was mayor, and describes him as an advisor. Manzano-Plaza said Carollo, who was fired as Doral city manager last year after 15 months on the job, is being paid to “ do some research and provide some political advice.”
Manzano-Plaza, who is a partner in the communications arm of the LSN Partners lobbying firm, and Carollo are the second- and third-best compensated individuals in the Gimenez organization. But combined, they have earned less than 60 percent of what Goldmeier has been paid for his fundraising duties.
Campaign fundraisers typically earn commissions for donations they secure, and it’s not unusual for one fundraiser to work for multiple campaigns. Regalado’s professional fundraiser, Esther Nuhfer, also works for Commissioner Esteban “Steve” Bovo’s reelection effort.
Goldmeier referred questions to Manzano-Plaza, who declined to disclose how the fundraiser’s compensation is calculated. The more than $190,000 he has received through the Gimenez operation is another measure of how much money the incumbent mayor has been able to raise: nearly $3 million through November, compared to about $575,000 for Regalado.
Regalado has criticized Gimenez for raising so much money from county contractors and developers with business before Miami-Dade. Goldmeier plays a key role in that process, either by placing calls to prospective donors, joining Gimenez for rounds of fundraising calls, and secured pledged donations. Manzano-Plaza noted Goldmeier started raising money for Gimenez during his first run for mayor in 2011.
“He’s certainly a great asset now,” Manzano-Plaza said, “as is shown in the reports.”
Miami Herald staff writer Christina Veiga contributed to this report.