Miami-Dade commissioners reluctant to reveal PACs that funds their campaigns

Only two Miami-Dade commissioners out of 13, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez, appeared a workshop on Monday to consider a financial-disclosure proposal.
Only two Miami-Dade commissioners out of 13, Daniella Levine Cava and Xavier Suarez, appeared a workshop on Monday to consider a financial-disclosure proposal. dhanks@miamiherald.com

Let’s give the majority of Miami-Dade County commissioners the benefit of the doubt — it was just after spring break, and there likely were some scheduling conflicts. But their absence from a public workshop to discuss imposing greater transparency on how they raise funds and for whom they raise funds was, itself, pretty transparent.

After all, most of the commission made clear last month that they were not in favor of having to disclose the organizations for whom they are making calls and from whom they are seeking campaign funds — including political action committees and electioneering communications organizations (ECOs) that are promoting a specific issue or supporting a candidate.

In other words, if most Miami-Dade commissioners want to reveal their political financials only on a need-to-know basis, then they’ve already decided that the public doesn’t need to know.

And such resistance can only mean one thing — the public, indeed, needs to know.

But when Monday’s workshop, scheduled to answer commissioners’ panicked questions about shedding light on their financial ties and to hear from community members, only two commissioners showed up for the 90-minute session: Daniella Levine Cava, the sponsor of the proposal her colleagues dread so much, and Xavier Suarez.

Ms. Levine Cava is following through on a campaign promise to bring more transparency to how county government does business, including the commission. In referring to her own uphill, but successful, campaign in 2014 to unseat a well-financed incumbent, she told Herald reporter Michael Vasquez: “It was very difficult, if not impossible, to trace exactly where that money was coming from.”

In December, she proposed an ordinance that would require greater PAC disclosures.

If approved, the new rules would require commissioners and candidates for county office 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.” Talk about uphill.

But Florida already operates this way. And if the 11 missing commissioners had shown up on Monday, they would have heard elections and ethics attorney Mark Herron explain how it works at the state level. He came all the way from Tallahassee to enlighten them, but …

At the state level, elected officials and candidates for state office who directly or indirectly solicit, cause to be solicited, or accept any contribution on behalf of certain political committees, “shall file a statement with the [Division of Elections] within five days after commencing such activity on behalf of the organization.” The statement shall contain the name of the person acting on behalf of the organization; the name and type of the organization; a description of the relationship between the person and the organization.

Then, “All contributions received shall be disclosed on the website within five business days after deposit, together with the name, address and occupation of the donor.”

This was the state’s response to hard-to-trace stealth advertising campaigns, imposing accountability as to who might be beholden to whom. As Ms. Levine Cava told the Editorial Board on Tuesday, “One of the reasons people distrust government is because they are suspicious of who is financing campaigns and their motives.”

This issue is not going away, and reluctant commissioners have an obligation to confront this worthy proposal head on. Vote it up or down. If it’s down, then they have an obligation to explain why they want to keep their constituents in the dark.