Today's Miami Herald has a report that raises as many questions as it answers about a dirty trick gone bad, originally aimed at Joe Garcia, the likely Democratic candidate for the open House seat in FL-25.
As I haven’t blogged much about this race previously, forgive me for taking longer than usual to set the scene, but I think the background is relevant.
The primaries are not until the end of August, but the smart money is for Garcia, who ran a strong campaign against an incumbent two years ago, to win the Democratic primary and face the likely victor on the Republican side: increasingly beleaguered state Rep. David Rivera. If fundraising numbers are any guide, both candidates should coast to easy wins over their less-well-known and underfunded primary opponents.
That said, Rivera has had a really, really bad month or so. (Bear with me.)
- A house Rivera co-owned with Marco Rubio was foreclosed on after they failed to make five mortgage payments. After it hit the papers they found the money. And went on to fundraise together. (6/17/2010)
- Rivera demonstrated a Mark Kirk-like tendency to dissemble when faced with a tough question about his associations: When asked by the Miami Herald, Rivera lied about his relationship with Ariel Pereda, a local businessman who trades with Cuba. (7/1/2010)
- News broke that Rivera was accused of domestic violence — back in 1994. Rivera's girlfriend filed a restraining order but did not show up in court, and the case was dropped, but the revelations sparked an attempted palace coup to topple Rivera as chairman of the Miami GOP. (7/8/2010)
- Rivera supporters at FIU, a local public university, made headlines when they got into trouble for sending an email on the Rivera campaign’s behalf to 4000 faculty and staff seeking to raise money for Rivera. Rivera sits on the state Senate committee that controls the money spigot for public universities, leading critics to call this a “shakedown,” and FIU’s Provost to send out a general note warning about improper political activity. (7/9/2010)
- Paul Crespo, one of Rivera’s primary opponents, is running as the Tea Party candidate.
- Rivera’s quarterly fundraising numbers were not as good as he would have hoped. Just over half a million is a lot of money for a congressional campaign to have raised — but Garcia raised more — $729 thousand. This fundraising shortfall is particularly ironic given that after having promised to attend, Rivera skipped the Downtown Bay Forum, apparently because he needed the time for fundraising and comes on the heels of earlier allegations of improper fundraising by Rivera.
- Presumptive GOP senatorial Candidate Marco Rubio — whose “disciple” Rivera claims himself to be — has started distancing himself from Rivera
So, to sum up, the Rivera campaign has some reason to be feeling a little worried.
Utterly coincidentally, someone cooked up the idea of sending voters in Collier County a campaign mailer that tries to suggest that because he served in the Obama Energy department — as head of the Office of Minority Economic Impact — Garcia is responsible for the Gulf Oil spill. It also tried to suggest that Garcia, the former director of the Cuban-American National Foundation — is somehow anti-Cuban. Yes, really: see the Miami Herald’s Student's bizarre attack ad targets Democrat Joe Garcia (7/23/10).
The mailer claimed to be paid for by a newly registered independent expenditure group, a so-called 527 organization, called “Progressives for Prosperity.” The head of this group was a 19-year-old college student at FSU named Matthew Slider who claimed to be a Democrat supporting one of Garcia’s primary rivals. You can see a picture of the mailer over at the Reid Report.
That story didn’t last real long. Today’s Miami Herald reveals that in fact the moving force behind “Progressives for Prosperity” is Evan J. Power, a Tallahassee lobbyist and political operative with a history of dirty tricks. And the student whose name is on the registration papers, well, he’s angry and says he was conned (7/28/10):
Slider said he met Power through a friend, fellow FSU student Chris Spencer. Spencer and Power told him they needed a registered Democrat to head the political group and showed him copies of a positive mailer they planned to send out that outlined Meurice's best qualities. That mailer was never sent.
But it gets better. Not only does Matthew Slider now say (under oath!) that Power tricked him, but he claims that there is no way his organization could have paid for the mailers since it only ever had $100 in its bank account. As reported in the Naples Daily News,
“Evan Power told me that despite the difference in their political parties, he was supporting Luis Meurice and cited polls, which I never saw, that supposedly claimed Mr. Meurice would be a strong general election candidate versus David Rivera,'' Slider said in his sworn statement.
Lobbyist Power says someone hijacked the group’s name the very week he was creating it, and the mailers were a complete surprise to him. The lobby group that employed Power seems to have taken a dimmer view of the situation, as it has fired him.
The timing is especially suspicious here. According to the Naples Daily News,
Slider said he was assured that he would get to see and approve any piece of mail sent out by the 527 group and that no mail had yet been distributed.
What struck him most about the mailer, he said, was that it was sent from Miami on Saturday July 17, but the group wasn’t formed until Monday.
“It all just clicked,” Slider said. “I realized I had been duped.”
According to the Herald, “Garcia's campaign said it is considering legal action, especially since the bank statement shows money was never withdrawn to fund the mailers.”
Usually campaigns don’t like to get involved in lawsuits since it drains time and money away from the main task of reaching voters. But this is one time where I wonder if the lawsuit might not be worth pursuing. Discovery could be very interesting, as witnesses will have to explain under oath just how independent of Rivera they were, and where the money came from.
(Of course if they deny everything under oath, then it all grinds to a halt unless someone can find the printer.)