Elections

Two years later, Rep. Curbelo still keeps list of past clients secret

U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo speaks to the Miami Herald editorial board in February.
U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo speaks to the Miami Herald editorial board in February. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

Shortly after winning his congressional seat two years ago, Miami Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo shut down his government and public affairs consulting company. He closed the office to comply with a rule that bans federal lawmakers from holding outside employment.

That rule, however, does not require former private consultants like Curbelo to disclose who hired them in the past. To this day, Curbelo’s list of onetime clients remains secret.

The congressman continues to refuse to voluntarily make his clients public. When a Miami Herald reporter asked his reelection campaign if it would release the list, a Curbelo spokeswoman said no, noting that he “has fully complied with all state and federal laws, including disclosure requirements.”

Curbelo maintains he will confirm the identity of his private clients if he’s asked about them specifically. In 2014, he acknowledged working for Mount Sinai Medical Center on Miami Beach and for Roberto and William Isaías, two brothers who have been convicted of embezzlement in absentia in Ecuador and say they’re victims of political persecution, a position supported earlier this year by an arm of the United Nations.

He refused at the time to say how much the Isaías family paid him for the work, and insisted he didn’t have to register as a lobbyist on their behalf despite having set up meetings for the brothers with federal lawmakers.

As a Miami-Dade County School Board member in 2011, Curbelo disclosed working for Genting East Coast USA, the Malaysian casino giant.

The issue over Curbelo’s unwillingness to list his clients first came up in 2014, when candidate Curbelo faced pressure from reporters and from his opponent, then-U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, to name the business and political interests he’d represented as a consultant. At the time, the Florida Democratic Party filed a complaint against Curbelo with the U.S. Justice Department; the party says two years later it never heard back.

Garcia is again challenging Curbelo, in a bid to win back his old seat.

A loophole in federal disclosure requirements exempted Curbelo from listing his private clients because his firm, Capitol Gains, had been registered under the name of his wife, Cecilia — though she had stopped working there in 2009 to become a full-time mom. Carlos Curbelo was always the firm’s principal, drawing a six-figure salary. He claimed he took himself off the ownership papers because that was the U.S. Senate’s recommendation when he worked as an aide to then-Sen. George LeMieux.

Yet after Curbelo left the Senate, he never put the business back in his name. And now that he’s in Congress, Curbelo’s constituents may never know if any of his former business relationships pose a conflict of interest for him as a lawmaker.

“The public still deserves to know the names of his clients, but at this point there isn’t any requirement that he disclose them,” said Adam Rappaport, senior counsel for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a liberal watchdog group. “I don’t think you’re going to be finding out who those clients are.”

Curbelo’s 2015 annual financial disclosure, filed with the U.S. House in August, lists Capitol Gains as an “investment holding company, formerly media and public relations,” solely owned by the congressman’s wife. She received no salary in 2015, according to the report.

Elsewhere in the document, Curbelo lists 33 percent interest in Mission Group II LLC. “The LLC sold its assets, but is still active,” the report says. Curbelo is listed as a company “member.”

The national Democratic Party listed Curbelo’s secret clients as one of his political vulnerabilities in opposition-research documents leaked two months ago to an anonymous hacker. But Garcia’s team hasn’t attacked Curbelo over his secrecy since April, perhaps resigned to the fact that the undisclosed list didn’t seem to hurt the Republican much during the 2014 election — and may have given Curbelo a way into bashing Garcia. Two years ago, Curbelo used the criticism as a way to pivot into slamming Garcia over his campaign’s past criminal transgressions, which resulted in a pair of convictions and jail time for Garica’s former chief of staff.

“Unlike Joe Garcia and his corrupt campaigns, Carlos has fully complied with all state and federal laws, including disclosure requirements,” Curbelo spokeswoman Joanna Rodriguez said in a statement. “We welcome a discussion on ethics, integrity, transparency, and honesty. Joe Garcia has shown he has none of the above.”

This story has been updated to reflect the UN ruling in the Isaías case.

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