Two Florida Senators amended their campaign finance reports Monday morning after the Miami Herald inquired about why their fundraising records suggested they’d accepted donations after the start of the legislative session, in violation of chamber rules.
Daphne Campbell, D-North Miami Beach, and Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, both filed treasurer’s reports for January reporting campaign donations after the start of the 2018 legislative session. Campbell, a Democrat, showed $13,000 after Jan. 9, and Simpson, the Republican majority leader, showed nearly $11,000.
If they indeed accepted checks after the start of session, that would be a violation of Florida Senate rules, which prohibit elected officials from soliciting or receiving campaign checks while they’re actively voting on legislation and policy initiatives. The rule, echoed by the House of Representatives, is intended to avoid the perception (and reality) of pay-for-play.
Both senators, however, said through surrogates that their reports were inaccurate, and quickly amended the documents. Simpson, through spokeswoman Erin Isaac, said the checks in question, dated as late as Jan. 11 in Simpson’s contribution report, had been mailed to CPA Randy Woodruff on the first day of session. Issac said they were mistakenly documented as having been received on the date they were deposited in the bank, and she provided a Jan. 9 FedEx receipt to the Miami Herald.
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“You caught an error,” she said. “The checks were received by [Simpson] from donors on Monday, Jan. 8, and then were FedExed to be processed on Tuesday. They were deposited on a Thursday.”
It’s not uncommon for checks to be listed by campaigns under the date they were deposited. Florida law allows checks to be deposited within five business days after they are received by a campaign treasurer.
Campbell, who lists herself as her campaign treasurer, had an accountant call a reporter to discuss the checks.
Similarly to Simpson, Hudson Robillard told the Miami Herald that Campbell accepted the checks before Jan. 9, and said the bank deposited the payments days later, in one case as late as Jan. 16. He blamed his firm and the bank, but said it would not be “appropriate” to provide financial documents to the Miami Herald.
“It’s a mistake on our part and we wanted to accept responsibility,” said Robillard, who has since amended Campbell’s report to show that all checks were received by Jan. 8.
Under the rules of the chamber, punishment for anyone who accepts checks after session begins is up to Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, although Negron can refer the issue to the rules committee and seek a recommendation. John B. Phelps, staff director of the rules committee, said the committee has not received any referrals about Campbell. Katherine Betta, a spokeswoman for Negron, reached out to Campbell after being contacted by the Miami Herald Monday morning and said the Senator denies raising money after the start of session.
Campbell’s reelection campaign has repeatedly been warned by the Florida Division of Elections about sloppiness. She has paid more than $2,000 in fines for filing late donation reports, starting with her first report in December of 2016.
Campbell is currently facing a primary challenge from attorney Jason Pizzo, a wealthy candidate who filed Dec. 14 to run for Campbell’s Senate seat and is able to largely self-fund his campaign. In 2016, Campbell bested Pizzo by more than 1,000 votes in a six-way primary.
“The pattern of breaking the rules is clear with my opponent,” Pizzo said. “Whether it’s putting her interests ahead of constituents during post-Hurricane Irma recovery, voting against our interests in Tallahassee, or any number of her unethical shenanigans — our community is always last on her priority list.”