Politics

Super PAC shuffle: Murphy ‘hates’ them, but family’s company gives $300K to one that backs him

U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. He has been critical of super PACs but benefits from one, Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, whose top donor is Murphy’s family’s company, of which the candidate is a shareholder.
U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, is running in the Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. He has been critical of super PACs but benefits from one, Floridians for a Strong Middle Class, whose top donor is Murphy’s family’s company, of which the candidate is a shareholder. Miami Herald file photo

Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Patrick Murphy consistently expresses disdain for super PACs — even while being a shareholder in a family business that recently dumped $300,000 into a super PAC supporting his bid for higher office.

The Jupiter congressman owns between $1 million and $5 million worth of stock in his father’s company, Miami-based Coastal Construction Group, according to financial disclosures Murphy has filed with the U.S. House of Representatives since his first election in 2012.

Coastal gave a $300,000 donation to the pro-Murphy super PAC, “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” at the end of March. That was on top of a $200,000 donation that Murphy’s father and Coastal’s chairman and CEO, Thomas Murphy Jr., gave in December.

Thomas Murphy’s and Coastal’s donations account for more than half of the super PAC’s reported income to date, according to Federal Election Commission records.

But “I hate super PACs,” Patrick Murphy told the Palm Beach Post on Monday after a campaign event in West Palm Beach. “ I think Citizens United was one of the biggest mistakes in our country’s history.”

Super PACs are not bound by campaign contribution limits, but they are prohibited by federal law from coordinating with a candidate’s campaign.

Murphy’s campaign said there was no coordination with “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class,” but his primary opponent U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, questions whether there was.

“I think it’s hard to explain how this isn’t an illegal coordination,” Grayson said. “He’s a shareholder in the company and the company turns around and gives a huge donation to his super PAC. It smacks of utter desperation on his part.”

When asked whether the family shareholders were consulted about the contribution, Coastal Vice Chairman Dan Whiteman told the Herald/Times on Tuesday that Thomas Murphy Jr. “personally directed the contribution.”

Patrick Murphy’s U.S. Senate campaign declined to make the congressman available for an interview Monday or Tuesday, nor would his political advisers agree for a spokesman to be interviewed on his behalf.

Instead, spokeswoman Galia Slayen provided a written statement.

“It goes without saying that our campaign follows the letter and the spirit of the law, and Patrick’s record on this issue is clear,” Slayen said. “He has sponsored the bill to overturn Citizens United and has been endorsed by the grassroots group End Citizens United.”

Citizens United was the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2010 that made it unconstitutional for the government to limit political spending of private companies. The ruling opened the door to allowing super political action committees (PACs) and political groups funded by “dark money,” which have heavily influenced recent election cycles.

“Progressives can’t fight against the millions poured in by the Tea Party and Koch brothers with our hands tied behind our backs,” Slayen added, noting that a super PAC supporting Republican candidate and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, has more than $1 million on hand for the U.S. Senate race. (By comparison, “Floridians for a Strong Middle Class” reported $841,000 in cash on hand, as of March 31.)

Beside DeSantis, four other Republican candidates are also running, three of whom also have super PACS supporting them. Grayson and Republican Todd Wilcox are the only two U.S. Senate contenders without super PAC help.

Critics from both political parties blast Murphy for double-speak because he says he dislikes super PACs but still benefits from one whose top donors are Murphy’s father and the family business.

Grayson called it “rank hypocrisy.”

Ian Prior, spokesman for the Senate Leadership Fund — which is affiliated with Karl Rove’s conservative super PAC, American Crossroads — said, “If Murphy really wants to get money out of politics, he will stop using a business that he owns to fund a super PAC that exists solely to get him elected to the U.S. Senate.”

When pressed for further comment, Slayen said in an updated statement: “To get rid of the money in our politics, progressives have to win elections. ... so while Patrick strongly supports campaign finance reform, he believes change will happen when Democrats take back the Senate and overturn Citizens United.”

Murphy’s financial disclosure records show that in 2012 he declared between $1,000 and $2,500 in income from his investment in Coastal. More recently, in 2013 and 2014, he reported income ranging from $100,000 to $1 million each year. The income “reflects growth in the company but was never disbursed” to Murphy, the annual reports state.

Before joining Congress in 2013, Murphy worked for Coastal. He reported a $98,000-a-year salary as Coastal’s vice president of environmental services.

A 2012 profile on the company by the Miami Herald described Coastal as “one of the largest Florida-based construction firms.” Thomas Murphy Jr. founded the company in 1988. Top executives include several other members of the Murphy family, including Patrick Murphy’s two older brothers.

Thomas Murphy has a history of giving sizable donations to super PACs supporting his son. In Patrick Murphy’s first U.S. House race in 2012, Thomas Murphy gave $250,000 to the pro-Murphy super PAC, American Sunrise.

Kristen M. Clark: 850-222-3095, kclark@miamiherald.com, @ByKristenMClark

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