When I get myself a PAC, it will obviously need a wildly misleading patriotic-sounding name. Unhappily, Frank Artiles has dibs on Veterans for Conservative Principles.
Darn. That would have sounded so respectable, exactly what I’d need for a million-dollar political action committee like Frank’s — with the same conservative principles that prompted Miami’s departed senator to hire himself a couple of lovely political consultants whose résumés included Hooters waitress, Hooters calendar girl, Playboy model and owner of Hot Cheeks Bikini, an online swimsuit sales business.
To be fair, I spent more time perusing Heather Thomas’ Hot Cheeks website than I’ve ever devoted to a candidate’s platform. The young consultant could teach a pol a thing or two about attracting a certain demographic.
My colleague Mary Ellen Klas discovered that Veterans for Conservative Principles had paid Thomas and Brittney Singletary $2,000 and $1,500, respectively, for … well … unspecified consulting work. (I’m guessing that Mrs. Artiles might demand a more detailed invoice.)
Klas found the consultants’ fees sprinkled amid a passel of fun time expenditures on the PAC’s spending reports filed with the Florida Division of Elections. Last spring, the committee paid out $17,672 for a box at last year’s Kentucky Derby. That was listed as a “fundraiser.” Also, $4,236 went toward hotel accommodations in Louisville. A couple of days after the derby weekend, the PAC paid Heather and Brittney $600 each.
Frank’s PAC paid $2,693 to the Marriott Key West Beachside Hotel for yet another fundraiser. Artiles apparently adhered to the old adage that you’ve got to spend money to make money. (And what’s wrong with having a little fun a long the way?) He seems to have withdrawn at least 80 grand from his PAC money for fundraising extravaganzas — and then reimbursed himself more than $50,000.
Ever the mentor, Frank also hauled another young woman, a former Hooters waitress and onetime House of Representatives intern along on one of his Key West excursions. Taylor M. Lockwood posted a photo on her Instagram account, posing in front of a private jet — with the caption: “Lifestyles of the rich and famous. Heading to Key West in style. #thanksfrank.”
If only I had my own PAC, that could read “#thanksfred.”
Klas had become curious about Veterans for Conservative Principles after Artiles had belatedly added a $2,000 contribution to his PAC report (after reporters started asking questions). Apparently FPL had treated him to yet another fun weekend, this time at the Daytona 500.
Unhappily, the pugnacious Artiles resigned under pressure from his Senate seat on April 21 amid the outrage over his racist, sexist rant earlier that week. The ex-senator slouched out of town before we could hear explanations for his party-boy spending.
Artiles’ PAC spent $17,672 for a box at last year’s Kentucky Derby.
But the former senator is hardly the only Florida pol whose PAC expenditures barely seemed like legitimate campaign spending. Back when he was a state legislator, former U.S. Rep. David Rivera, according to investigators from the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office, used his campaign accounts for “virtually every travel-related expenditure: airfare, automobile costs, lodging, meals and related miscellaneous expenses for personal items and entertainment.”
Rivera even rationalized his girlfriend’s travel costs as a legitimate campaign expense, because, well, a bachelor politician in South Florida must be mindful of appearances.
The state attorney’s office said Rivera had styled himself as a perpetual candidate. “Essentially, the subject’s position is that he was for a period of almost a decade, continuously and simultaneously engaging in official business, campaigning for public office, as well as campaigning for committeeman; moving from one task to another seamlessly on a daily basis.”
Eventually, Miami-Dade voters found that Rivera’s ethics were a bit too elastic. He has since lost two elections.
Voters also lost patience with another free spender, state Rep. Chris Dorworth of Lake Mary, although in 2012 he had been anointed the next speaker of the house. The would-be speaker had not made a mortgage payment on his $1.6 million house in three years. But even as he fell into bankruptcy, Dorworth managed a fine lifestyle using his personal campaign fund, the so-called Citizens for an Enterprising Democracy. The fund paid for his lavish travel, fancy meals, hefty bar bills, a Super Bowl trip, even his casino bills.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, back when he was a humble state legislator, used his two political action committees to cover everyday household expenditures. There were charges for gas and trips to the drug store, $3,500 for his mother-in-law’s car rental and $10,000 to various relatives for “courier services.”
Then Marco and a bunch of state party leaders were caught whipping out their Republican Party American Express like shopaholics. The party had been charged for golf junkets, shopping sprees, hotel rooms, limos, car repairs and Marco’s $133.75 haircut. And the $3,756 he spent on pavers at his West Miami home. (A mistake, he later explained.)
Not that abusing PACs and party credit cards will lead to a politician’s downfall. Not in Florida. Rubio, of course, was elected U.S. senator. And not long after voters in Central Florida ousted Chris Dorwood — the would-be house speaker — he was hired by one of the state’s top lobbying firms. Obviously he had skills that are much admired in Tallahassee.
So take heart Frank. You’ve still got a future in Florida politics. Just ask your political consultants.