Carlos Curbelo blames ‘glitch’ for misreporting $93,000 in campaign funds

Miami congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo voted Tuesday at the West Dade Regional Library early-voting site.
Miami congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo voted Tuesday at the West Dade Regional Library early-voting site. EL NUEVO HERALD

Carlos Curbelo’s congressional campaign omitted or mislabeled $93,000 in contributions from special interests in a finance report last month, in what the Miami Republican called an unintentional software “glitch.”

The campaign revealed the significant changes in an amended report filed this week, nearly two weeks after submitting the original quarterly report to the Federal Election Commission.

In its original Oct. 15 report, the campaign listed $40,500 in contributions from political action committees. More than $40,000 in additional PAC money was mislabeled as coming from individuals. About $50,000 in PAC contributions were omitted altogether.

As a result, Curbelo’s amended report, filed Oct. 28, listed $133,500 from PACs — $93,000 more than in the original — representing a variety of interests.

Curbelo’s total contributions were also revised upward to $472,000 for the three-month reporting period, from $420,000. His cash on hand went up to $555,000 from $505,000. He has raised nearly $2million throughout the election cycle.

At first, it seemed that the entire $93,000 had been missing from Curbelo’s report. His campaign explained Saturday afternoon that some of the contributions had been reported but in the wrong place, making them more difficult to find.

Curbelo attributed the problems Friday to a software switch that didn’t go well. His campaign moved to a higher-end program from a more basic one available to campaigns at no charge.

“In the conversion, there was a problem, and we had to re-file,” he said, calling the incident a “data glitch.”

Among the omitted contributions: $5,000 from firebrand and former congressman Allen West’s PAC. There were also omissions from far less controversial contributors, such as $2,000 from popular Miami Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Among the mislabeled contributions: $5,000 from KochPAC, a group run by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

Democratic incumbent Rep. Joe Garcia has pointed to the Kochs as evidence that support from more conservative groups could leave the moderate Curbelo beholden to donors if he were elected Tuesday. Garcia has received extensive contributions from liberal PACs, including labor unions, but has benefited less from outside groups than Curbelo.

“This is nothing new for Mr. Curbelo, who has already shown he has a history of putting himself before the people of South Florida,” Garcia spokesman Miguel Salazar said in a statement Saturday.

He also mentioned Curbelo’s refusal to disclose the clients of Capitol Gains, the government and public relations firm run by Curbelo but owned by his wife. Curbelo is a Miami-Dade County school board member.

The campaign-finance trouble comes very late in the race. More than 75,000 district voters, the majority registered Republican, had already cast their ballots as of Friday.

Candidates routinely file amended financial reports to correct various errors and omissions. But the amendments usually amount to a few thousand dollars here and there, as do some filed this election cycle by Garcia.

A $93,000 change, especially so close to Tuesday’s election, could raise questions from the FEC if it considers the omission a possible attempt to mislead voters. The agency can choose to investigate candidate’s reports on its own or do so after receiving an outside complaint.

“FEC Enforcement Division would presume that the omissions were made to obtain a strategic advantage,” Brett Kappel, a federal campaign-finance attorney in Washington, D.C., said in an email.

“Their biggest problem is the length of time it took them to file an amended report,” he added. Private vendors like the one Curbelo is using now “deal with these conversion issues all the time. The maximum credible delay would be a day — not two weeks.”

Curbelo has run on a message of ethics, hammering Garcia over a pair of criminal investigations, including one that resulted with his former chief of staff going to jail. Before Garcia, the Westchester-to-Key West 26th congressional district was represented by Republican David Rivera, who as a state lawmaker ran afoul of campaign finance rules, according to the Florida Commission on Ethics.

On Friday, Curbelo said he takes responsibility for his campaign’s conduct, but noted his treasurer has not received an information request from the federal agency. He attributed that to his campaign keeping the feds apprised of the situation.

“The FEC was aware,” he said. “They knew it was a vendor issue.”

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