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Sunday Late Night: Florida Fingers First 112th Frosh & Finance Friends

Is this what the teabaggers mean by ‘take our country back?’ Back to the days when successive GOP Congressmen are under constant investigation by state and federal authorities for corruption and campaign finance violations? Because it’s started. Florida state authorities have a GOP House freshman on the hook already, although he and his pals are struggling mightily to slip off.

After dropping out of a state Senate race last year to run for Congress, David Rivera set aside tens of thousands of dollars from his dormant Senate campaign account to say “thank you” to supporters of a race he never intended to finish.

Fun fact: Florida pols can’t transfer funds raised for a state race into a campaign account for a federal post, but they can funnel that money into accounts to be used as ‘thank you’ money. Sort of like office-seekers in big city political machines have walking-around money, but mostly sitting down. It’s Florida, after all.

Voters are old, and it’s hot.

And when politicians’ friends start up companies in the specific business of coordinating campaigns’ thank-you funding expenditures (there’s a niche market I bet wouldn’t exist if Florida politicians hadn’t carved themselves and their fundraiser buddies this little loophole) said companies should probably exist before the politicians hand them leftover campaign funds:

Rivera, who served as the treasurer of his Senate campaign, made his first $50,000 payment to ACH about five months later, on July 15 — one day before ACH was incorporated, records show. The company received $25,000 more on Aug. 30.

ACH was founded by Alyn Cruz Higgins, 31, a Miami political fundraiser and consultant. Her mother, Alina Garcia, is an aide on Rivera’s congressional staff, after working for Rivera for years in the state Legislature.

(Offhand point: “I’m my own treasurer” is about the biggest red flag in campaign finance. Is there really no one you can trust with your corrupt secrets, dude? No one?)

Rivera, it seems, learned his please-and-thank-you manners very thoroughly. He has applied them quite diligently in his campaigns:

From 2004 to 2010, Rivera spent almost $243,000 in campaign donations on “thank you” expenses — far more than any other state candidate, and accounting for almost one-quarter of all the thank-you money spent in Florida during that period, a Miami Herald analysis of state campaign data found.

But back to ACH, the company named after the initials of its founder, Alyn Cruz Higgins. The firm was both short-lived and single-purposed, it seems:

Higgins filed paperwork to dissolve ACH on Dec. 23.

Higgins listed her mother’s home as the address of ACH in corporate records filed with the state. However, Rivera’s campaign reports showed a different address for ACH: the home of Higgins’ sister, Alany Cruz.

Cruz told The Miami Herald she was unaware of the payments, and she could not explain why the campaign records list her home as the firm’s address.

Rivera, for the 2010 thank-you disbursement, resorted to a slightly more hands-off approach than he used previously:

In 2006, Rivera also spent $15,000 on a “thank you” campaign through a company called Millennium Marketing — a company co-owned by Rivera’s 70-year-old mother and his godmother.


Rivera also paid Millennium an additional $15,000 for “campaign consulting” on Sept. 27, 2006 — two days after Millennium was incorporated, records show.

In October, a Rivera spokeswoman told The Herald that Millennium “was paid to organize and coordinate the thank-you campaign, which included overseeing media, mail, telecommunications and community outreach.”

Millenium Marketing is at the heart of the criminal investigation — something about a racetrack, a voter initiative campaign for parimutuel betting, political donations, and a half-million dollars in secret payments. Thank-you money, though, so perfectly illustrates the dilemma faced by officeholders everywhere in America: there are simply too many donors willing to stuff their corrupt pants pockets. They need a legitimate way to siphon off the excess.

Congressman Rivera will feel right at home in the kleptocratic House GOP caucus. I just hope Speaker Boehner asks Eric Cantor to count the coffee spoons after regular Tuesday meetings.

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Teddy Partridge

Teddy Partridge