Miami-Dade County

Challenger Carlos Curbelo, Rep. Joe Garcia trade jabs on ties to Venezuela, gambling

Republican congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo this week called on Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia to return political campaign contributions from a longtime supporter who has had personal relationships in the Venezuelan government.

With violent street clashes taking place in the South American country since last week, Curbelo condemned Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro’s actions and offered his support to student protesters.

Garcia has said much of the same, as have other local members of Congress.

But Curbelo tried to characterize Garcia as hypocritical for accepting contributions from Bill Delahunt, a former Massachusetts Democratic congressman.

“Regrettably, there are congressmen like Joe Garcia who advocate for freedom in Miami while accepting campaign cash from the apologists and defenders of the Maduro regime in Washington,” Curbelo said in a statement.

Garcia and Curbelo are both Cuban American, but Florida’s 26th congressional district, which extends from Kendall to Key West, has a robust population of non-Cuban Hispanic voters — many of them South Americans more interested in Venezuela than in Cuba.

As of late last year, Garcia had received $2,500 from Delahunt, who is now a lobbyist.

Delahunt attended the funeral last year of former Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and has met directly with Maduro on U.S. policy issues. In 2005, Delahunt brokered a deal to bring discounted Venezuelan heating oil to Massachusetts.

Garcia’s campaign told the Miami Herald last year that Delahunt is a friend whose political support stretches back to Garcia’s first congressional campaign in 2008. He won the seat in 2012.

On Thursday, John Hennelly, a Garcia campaign consultant, didn't directly respond to Curbelo's request that the contributions be returned. Instead, Hennelly made a jab against Curbelo, noting that one of Delahunt’s lobbying clients has been the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe in Massachusetts. According to the Boston Globe, the tribe is trying to open a casino and has the backing of Malaysian casino giant Genting — a company Curbelo, a longtime political consultant, has lobbied for in Florida.

“If Carlos Curbelo wants to play guilt by association, he needs to explain why he is a hired lobbyist for the same company, Genting, that pays Delahunt,” Hennelly said in a statement, though it's the tribe that pays Delahunt. “By his own standard, Curbelo should return all the money Genting has paid him to lobby.

“While he is at it, Curbelo should also disclose his lobbying firm’s entire client list, so the public can understand who he is doing business with,” Hennelly added.

Curbelo dismissed the suggestion that, by doing mostly political work locally for Genting, he’s somehow also tied to Delahunt or Delahunt’s work for the tribe. And he rejected equating gambling to the deadly Venezuelan protests.

“I’ve never encountered him in my life,” he said. “This is about who Garcia decides to take campaign contributions from. I think the money from Bill Delahunt is on the wrong side, because Bill Delahunt is an advocate for the chavista regime.”

Curbelo, a Miami-Dade School Board member, is one of several Republicans vying to run against Garcia this fall.