Rep. David Rivera goes on offense with TV ads

Embattled U.S. Rep. David Rivera has gone on the attack over the airwaves in the final weeks of his reelection campaign against rival Joe Garcia.

Rivera has two campaign ads running on television. One of them, in Spanish, highlights the Miami Republican congressman’s assistance to Daniela Peláez, a North Miami Senior High School valedictorian who faced deportation to Colombia because her parents brought her to the U.S. illegally as a child.

The other ad, in English, claims Garcia, a Democrat, raised state utility rates, steered federal contracts to cronies and has been under investigation over his campaign finances. The claims are mostly inaccurate.

Rivera, a first-term congressman, is fighting to stay in office amid two federal investigations: one into his personal and campaign finances and another probing whether he illegally funneled secret money to a Garcia primary rival, Justin Lamar Sternad.

Rivera, however, continues to deny that either investigation is under way.

“No federal agency — none whatsoever — has ever confirmed or stated that I’m under investigation for anything,” he told veteran US1 Radio host Bill Becker over the weekend.

Rivera long denied a state investigation into his finances — in fact, he denied he had hired a lawyer in the matter — even as his lawyer was poking holes in prosecutors’ case. Citing the statute of limitations and an ambiguous state law, prosecutors closed the investigation earlier this year without filing any of the 52 charges they had drafted against Rivera.

Records from that investigation specifically mention interviews by federal agents.

Recent Democratic and Republican polls show Rivera lagging behind Garcia, who has a Spanish-language radio ad geared at Colombian Americans and a pair of positive ads airing in English in Miami-Dade and the Florida Keys. The newly drawn congressional map for District 26 runs from Kendall to Key West.

“Scandals, corruption, partisan infighting — no wonder people have lost faith in Congress,” Garcia says in the Miami-Dade ad. “I say enough is enough.”

Rivera’s TV ad featuring Peláez, the undocumented student, is geared at non-Cuban Hispanics. The Colombian Peláez, a so-called DREAMer who would be granted legal permission to remain in the country under the stalled federal legislation known as the DREAM Act, got a reprieve from deportation in part thanks to congressional intervention — including from Rivera, who does not support the legislation. He has proposed alternatives to the DREAM Act instead.

“Like me, David Rivera has been fighting to help undocumented youth to achieve the American Dream,” Peláez says in the ad. “David Rivera has always backed us. Now it’s our turn to back him.”

The attack ad attempts to place Garcia, like Rivera, under a cloud of suspicion.

“As a utility regulator, Garcia raised our electric bills, then lobbied for the energy companies. Garcia promised us to create jobs, but funnels millions of taxpayer dollars to political cronies while sending American jobs to China,” the ad says. “Today, Garcia is under investigation for breaking the law.”

In a statement, John Estes, Garcia’s campaign manager, said Rivera is trying to distract voters from his own investigations.

“Character and honesty matter to voters, and Rivera has failed that test,” Estes said. “Joe Garcia will continue his issues-based campaign that offers voters a chance to turn the page on this embarrassing time for our community.”

The electric bills claim stems to Garcia’s time on Florida’s Public Service Commission, which regulates utilities. When Rivera made a similar attack against Garcia in their congressional race two years ago, PolitiFact Florida called it “False” because Garcia was not present at a vote to raise Florida Power & Light rates.

When Gloria Romero Roses, a Garcia primary opponent this year, made a similar claim based on additional Garcia votes on the PSC, PolitiFact called it “Half True” because while Garcia voted for some rate hikes, whether the totality of his votes amounted to an increase or decrease for consumers depended on where the consumer lived.

El Nuevo Herald recently found the other claims made by Rivera were also off base.

Rivera has claimed that while Garcia headed the office of minority economic impact and diversity at the U.S. Department of Energy, he steered a federal stimulus contract to a Puerto Rico-based firm, CSA Group, that later hired Garcia once he left Washington D.C. CSA has also contributed to Garcia’s 2010 and 2012 campaigns.

The energy department, however, told El Nuevo Herald that Garcia’s office was not involved in the CSA contracts. The energy department awarded the stimulus contract to the commonwealth of Puerto Rico before Garcia worked in the federal government. Puerto Rico chose CSA as the vendor after Garcia was in the job at Energy Department.

Rivera has also claimed that Garcia is under investigation by the Federal Election Commission for campaign finance violations. Yet the FEC told El Nuevo Herald that no such investigation exists. An FEC letter featured in Rivera’s ad notifies Garcia that he has filed contributions in excess of the permissible, $5,000 limit.

Rivera’s ad does accurately say that Garcia’s congressional campaigns in 2010 and in 2008 against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart received the support of former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo contributed to this report.