Tuesday, March 29, 2016

On transparency in Miami-Dade campaign finance through PAC's, it is time for incumbent city and county commissioners to show up ... by gimleteye

Credit County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava's attempt to pass an ordinance requiring transparency in the collection of cash for political action committees. Yesterday, the ordinance she proposed was workshopped at County Hall: eleven of thirteen sitting county commissioners were nowhere to be found.

Money is the mother's milk of politics. All Levine Cava proposes is that voters should know where candidates and incumbents are scouring for money. Doug Hanks, at the Miami Herald, reported: "The commitees have names like Good Government Now, Imagine Miami, and Miami-Dade Residents First, and elected officials raise money for them without being required to disclose their connections to the entities. That leaves the media and the public to discover which committee is backing which candidate — information sometimes offered by the candidates, but not always."

Eye On Miami has frequently observed the abuse of political action committees in Miami-Dade and elsewhere. We also believe that the current GOP presidential primary -- in which Donald Trump is currently prevailing -- shows better than any instance we can recall how the dark money buried in political action committees no longer delivers anything resembling predictable results. For big campaign funders and special interests, there could be no finer moment to observe the need for campaign finance reform and for transparency, than now.
Special Presentation - Mark Herron, Esq. on Florida "Public Entity" Law and Regulation. He was on the Florida Commission on Ethics.

Commissioner Levine Cava commented for Eye on Miami:
"I am a hopeful person. I do believe that we can still get this (ordinance requiring transparency) passed. And if not this time, next. We have already passed some legislation related to restoring government trust, and we have more in the pipeline. I know that the commissioners are used to handling these accounts a certain way, and that change is hard. But I do believe that my colleagues on the dais will see that secrecy in the long run is a bad deal. They have all stated on the record that they are in favor of transparency in government. So I believe we can make some important changes that will help restore some of the broken trust with government. Our democracy depends upon it."
Come on, county commissioners: all aboard Miami-Dade transparency!

P.S. Since I was actually there in the empty chambers, I am going to add to this post. 

Daniella Levine Cava said her goal was: "restoring public trust. Secrecy is the enemy of public trust." 

Here is what Levine Cava was trying to do -- If Mayor Carlos Gimenez or any County Commission calls up an entity or person asking for funds for ANY  PAC/ECO they have to disclose it. This addressed  successful solicitations only and included third party solicitations (Mayor Gimenez soliciting funds for a PAC helping Lynda Bell). Most of the County Commissioners wanted this workshop because their lobbyist pals must have warned them to be obstructionist by slowing down the process. Only the District 7 Commissioner Xavier Suarez showed up. Thank you Commissioner Suarez. When I asked where Chair Jean Monestime was, I was told that the Chair's Staff was monitoring the proceedings.

Miami-Dade commissioners skip meeting on proposed PAC disclosures
DOUGLAS HANKS dhanks@miamiherald.com

Two of the 13 commissioners showed up to workshop on legislation
Members of the public urged passage of the ordinance
Final vote expected in April

It was a lonely dais Monday when Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava convened a workshop for legislation to require disclosure of commissioners soliciting contributions for political action committees. One other commissioner showed up: Xavier Suarez.

Want to draw a crowd of Miami-Dade commissioners? Don’t convene a public meeting on requiring them to disclose fund-raising for political action committees.

It was lonely on the commission dais Monday afternoon when 11 of the 13 commissioners skipped a workshop scheduled to address a flurry of questions and objections many of them raised over proposed legislation to require disclosure when elected officials raise money for political committees. Sponsor Daniella Levine Cava convened the workshop, and only one other commissioner, Xavier Suarez, joined her. The two listened to comments from members of the public, who all supported the ordinance and outnumbered elected officials by a 4-1 ratio.

“I want to thank everybody who has taken the time out of your business lives to be present for this important workshop,” Levine Cava said at the end of the 90-minute meeting that featured an elections-law expert who flew in from Tallahassee. “I want to especially thank my colleague, Xavier Suarez, for being with us the whole time.”

At issue is a proposed Miami-Dade law that would require county and city officials to disclose when they raise money for political committees, including those that serve as auxiliary election war chests in local races.

The commitees have names like Good Government Now, Imagine Miami, and Miami-Dade Residents First, and elected officials raise money for them without being required to disclose their connections to the entities. That leaves the media and the public to discover which committee is backing which candidate — information sometimes offered by the candidates, but not always.

Levine Cava used a state PAC in her 2014 race, and the Miami Herald’s campaign database shows that cash for political committees backing six commissioners seeking reelection that year totaled nearly $1 million. In 2016, with Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez up for reelection, known committee contributions have topped $2.8 million — with about $2.3 million going to Gimenez’s Miami-Dade Residents First committee. Florida law already requires state officials to make similar disclosures.

The eight speakers at the workshop included Michael Kesti, the lobbyist who was an FBI informant in the corruption investigation of Miami Lakes Mayor Michael Pizzi, who was later acquitted of all charges. “That was the tip of the iceberg,” he said of the case, which was part of a larger probe of influence peddling and bribery. “There are many companies that I deal with that will not do business in Miami-Dade County. Because of this air of you’ve got to pay to play.”

Marisabel Lavastida, an organizer with Engage Miami, said the non-profit sees a lack of transparency in the money fueling local campaigns as sapping the public’s interest in getting involved with politics.

“I would like this ordinance to pass just to clarify and remove this mysticism from PACs,” she said. “I don’t think this ordinance is asking candidates to wear a NASCAR suit with logos of who is sponsoring them. Even though I would love that.”

Lobbyist Michael Kesti

Suarez, who sat next to Levine Cava on the dais that was otherwise empty save for clerks and county lawyers, bore into some of the hypothetical scenarios that might become complications under the proposed ordinance. Would he have to disclose raising money for a presidential campaign? What if I am raising money for a fellow commissioner’s reelection?

“Why do I get involved in having to report just because I used my First Amendment right to solicit for someone else’s campaign or PAC? Just because I’m a county commissioner, and I come under this legislation?”

Miami-Dade lawyer Oren Rosenthal said the new rules only cover committees, not campaigns. But, yes, Suarez would need to fill out disclosure forms when raising money for any committee, even one supporting someone else. “You would be required, by virtue of being a county officer,” Rosenthal said.

The proposed law from Levine Cava, the most junior member of the commission following her 2014 ouster of incumbent Lynda Bell, was set for a final vote in February. But fellow commissioners raised a string of questions about how the ordinance might unfairly put them on the wrong side of the local law. Levine Cava agreed to withdraw the item in order to hold a workshop to explore the legislation in more detail.

“It was not my idea,” she said of the workshop. Because workshops do not require a minimum number of commissioners in attendance, it was held as planned and now Levine Cava’s legislation is expected to return to the full board for a final vote next month.

Asked about her colleagues’ absence, she said she hoped they would watch a video recording of the proceedings. “I’m comfortable they will do their homework,” she said, “so they can inform themselves before the final vote. Because they were all so interested in having a workshop.”


Anonymous said...

This was a disgusting display of hubris by 11 of 13 Commissioners. This item is crucial for transparency. The only two who should be reelected are Suarez and Levine Cava.

There is another way to attack the problem. File a citizens or electors petition ordinance to make term limits retroactive. Insure it is legally sufficient and present it to the BCC and call for a special election in June. The result if it passes would automatically make moot the candidacies of several sitting commissioners. I'll bet they show up for that discussion.

Geniusofdespair said...

Great Idea!!

Anonymous said...

Daniella Levine Cava said her goal was: "restoring public trust." Perhaps this is picky, but this is Miami-Dade, a banana republic--How can you restore what wasn't there?

Anonymous said...

Her proposal would do NOTHING to change things. It is a far cry from her bullet point flier during the campaign that called for outright prohibitions against certain donations.

Anonymous said...

one step at a time last Anon. this simple step has met a huge amount of resistance. I guess Cava-Levine could have put something really over the top out there just for points with the voters, but offered a measured solution as a first step instead. looks like shes trieng to get something done instead.

Anonymous said...

The 11 no-shows think that not attending will not harm their reputations. The group will only care if they see their competition pumping the contribution system with better results than they are getting.

Dean Dinero said...

There's a legitimate question about whether this proposal is more about making a point than enacting a workable, legally defensible reform measure.

Her plan is unworkable and questionably legal. Anyone with the slightest WORKING knowledge of campaign finance knows this.

Why not just copy what works -- the state law? You just file one piece of paper, and then everyone knows you are "affiliated" with a particular PAC.

Otherwise you are absolutely guaranteed to run afoul of the proposed Metro ordinance. Or be accused of running afoul of the ordinance.

There's also the question of legality of the proposal. The state's requirement is legal, defensible.

Requiring more frequent and timely finance reports would help. This is perfectly doable and legal.

Anonymous said...

Our eyes are gradually beginning to open to the corruption in politics. Donald Trump win or lose he is making sure because the so called establishment is against him. The establishment is clearly aligning behind the other establishment candidates.
Now our local BCC clearly show their corruptness by not showing up to support two of our best commissioners that are trying to support the people. I think its just a matter of time before money will not matter and the people will truly take their government back.
Thank You Daniella and Xavier this was a courageous and the right think to do. I wish we had 7 more like you for a majority to change things.
Again Thank You. You are a breath of fresh air.

Anonymous said...

Levine Cava is quickly becoming isolated. Imposing absurd rules on your colleagues is never well received. If it is really that important, she should work behind the scenes to help the "good government" activists bring a petition to pass the legislation. Sorenson sat in judgment of her fellow commissioners for 20 years and got very little done. The pattern is developing...

Anonymous said...

Last anon: totally absurd--Sorenson's fellow commissioners were generally scum. Sorenson should have been louder. Pattern indeed may be repeating.

Anonymous said...

And Sorenson got a lot done. both in her district and for the County, so go pound sand.