Miami-Dade County

Newly elected Miami congressman asked to explain errors in campaign reports

Carlos Curbelo celebrated in Kendall earlier this month after defeating Rep. Joe Garcia.
Carlos Curbelo celebrated in Kendall earlier this month after defeating Rep. Joe Garcia. MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Carlos Curbelo was elected to U.S. Congress earlier this month, but his campaign work is not over.

The Federal Election Commission has asked the Miami Republican to respond to a series of questions for omitting or mislabeling more than $93,000 in campaign contributions, which Curbelo has blamed on a computer software problem.

The federal agency issued Curbelo’s campaign two notices last week — one of them 11 pages long — that, if not answered adequately, could result in audits or fines.

Nicole Rapanos, Curbelo’s campaign manager, said Monday that the campaign plans to respond as early as this week with a complete accounting of contributions and donors omitted or mislabeled.

“Once we get everything answered, we should be OK,” she said. “We’re not trying to hide anything.”

It’s not uncommon for the FEC to ask campaigns to clean up their financial reports. But Curbelo’s reporting missteps were noteworthy because of the large amount of contributions in question so close to Nov. 4 election. Among other things, more than $50,000 in contributions from political action committees were omitted. More than $40,500 were mislabeled, including $5,000 from KochPAC, run by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

The Kochs were a frequent campaign target of Rep. Joe Garcia, the Democrat Curbelo ultimately defeated, who decried outside spending by conservatives on the race. Garcia himself raised more than Curbelo, but outside groups spent more against Garcia than against Curbelo, a Miami-Dade County school board member.

Curbelo ran a campaign based on his integrity, trying to draw a contrast with Garcia, whose former his chief of staff went to jail over an unlawful absentee-ballot request scheme. Separately, Garcia’s 2010 campaign remains under federal criminal investigation over its ties to a suspected straw candidate.

The Republican’s financial-reporting mistakes were made in a quarterly report filed Oct. 15. Curbelo’s campaign filed an amended report nearly two weeks later, on Oct. 28, blaming the errors on new accounting software adopted late in the political campaign.

But that wasn’t the only report affected. By Oct. 28, Curbelo’s campaign had already filed what’s known as a “pre-general” report — the final report before Election Day — based on the erroneous numbers from the prior, Oct. 15 quarterly filing.

As a result, Curbelo’s campaign treasurer, Ed S. Torgas, received two FEC notices Nov. 18: one noting problems in the Oct. 28 amendment, and another noting problems in the Oct. 23 pre-general report. The first was 11 pages long, the second two pages.

The longer notice lists a slew of problems. Some contributions exceeded federal limits. Other contributions for the primary election came in during the general. Still others failed to list donors’ occupations and employers. In some cases, PAC names weren’t fully disclosed.

Rapanos attributed all the mistakes to the change in software. Contributions missing donors’ occupations and employers, for example, originally listed that information in the initial filing but it was not carried over into the amended report.

The contributions that appeared to exceed donor limits were mislabeled, so the campaign won't have to refund any money, she said.