In her first-ever run for office last year, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava experienced the shadowy world of campaign finance firsthand — thanks to political action committees that supported her opponent.
“It was very difficult, if not impossible, to trace exactly where that money was coming from,” Levine Cava told the Miami Herald on Tuesday, after introducing a proposed county ordinance that would require greater PAC disclosures.
Levine Cava’s legislation is similar — though not identical — to existing state law, which requires state lawmakers, the governor and Cabinet members to disclose if they are affiliated with certain types of political action committees.
“It’s like a local loophole to not have the same requirement be in place for county officials and local municipal officials,” Levine Cava said.
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If approved next year, Levine Cava’s new rules would require local political candidates to file reports for any political action committees for which they are fundraising. Those reports would have to “identify each contribution solicited, directly or indirectly, by the candidate, the name of the person or entity contributing the funds … the amount of the contribution, and a description of the relationship between the candidate and the political committee.”
County commissioners did not openly debate Levine Cava’s proposal Tuesday — the county’s process is to first hold a vote to refer such matters to a committee, then debate the item. That procedural vote passed Tuesday, and the item is tentatively scheduled for the Strategic Planning & Government Operations Committee on Jan. 12.
Still, in that “first reading” vote to send it to committee, three commissioners opposed Levine Cava’s item. Those three commissioners were Audrey Edmonson, Jose “Pepe” Diaz, and Xavier Suarez, who is considering a run for county mayor. Eight others voted yes, with commissioners Esteban Bovo, Jr. and Juan Zapata absent.
Suarez aired some of his concerns on Twitter, tweeting that “I have serious concerns about the 1st Amendment implications of the ordinance. We will discuss further in committee.”
Diaz told the Herald that he worried about his efforts to help a PAC that is supporting a good cause — such as veterans — becoming public knowledge. He said additional veterans groups might then approach him and say “you raised money for them, you helped them, why didn’t you do it for us?”
Diaz said he would still keep an open mind about Levine Cava’s legislation as it goes through the committee process.
The existing disclosure requirements for state politicians function slightly differently. State law says that these candidates must file a disclosure for certain types of political action committees they are raising money for — and that disclosure must describe the politician’s relationship with the committee. The state law also requires the politician to “promptly create a public website that contains a mission statement and the names of persons associated with the organization.” Candidates also must list PAC contributions and expenditures on the website. That web address has to be reported to the state, which posts these disclosure documents on the Florida Division of Elections website.
More than a dozen state lawmakers from Miami-Dade have filed these disclosures over the years, including Miami Republican Jose Felix Diaz, who filed a “Statement of Solicitation” in September. Diaz listed himself as controlling a 501(c)4 committee called For a Better North Beach.
The committee’s mission: promoting a Miami Beach voter referendum to allow a 250-foot condo tower, a 150-foot hotel and a row of shops along Collins Avenue between 73rd and 75th streets.
Developer Sandor Scher, who planned the project, contributed $672,987 to Diaz’s committee through his company, Ocean Terrace Holdings, according to the committee’s public website. But last month, city voters rejected the referendum, which would have opened the door for Scher to tear down 11 historic buildings.