THE POLITICS OF MONEY: FRANCIS SUAREZ RAISED AND SPENT ALMOST $2.2 MILLION TO GET ELECTED MAYOR OF MIAMI. NO ONE IN THE NEWS MEDIA BOTHERED ASKING WHO GAVE HIM ALL THIS MONEY, OR WHY HE SPENT SO MUCH AGAINST 3 CANDIDATES WHO ONLY MANAGED TO RAISE A TOTAL OF $1000.00
After 9 years of writing stories detailing the corrosive influence of large and often unaccounted for amounts of money from developers, real estate investors, land use lawyers, contractors, as well as former dope dealers, medicare fraudsters and other scammers and schemers that influence the decisions that ethically challenged elected officials in Miami make - decisions that could only make sense if you believe in the tooth fairy, or in outright bribery - it's evident that not only has Miami rightfully earned the title of being among the most corrupt cities in the country, but that a large number of individuals and groups that take pride in representing the civic life of the community have become willing enablers of the damage that these corrupt politicians do to this community.
Worse, a number of these supposed high-minded civic leaders are members in good standing of the self-congratulatory circle jerk that celebrate their social standing and ability to get what they want from politicians by attending various social galas and fancy dress balls where the bribers and the bribees pose for photos and tell each other how great they are.
In all of Miami there are only a small handful of mainstream media reporters and bloggers who on a regular basis make any real effort at trying to provide both content and context to the self-serving, unethical and often illegal behavior of Miami's politicians, and quite frankly few of them are at the Miami Herald, where the corporate culture has now embraced "click bait" and stenography as the strategies that determines not only what is "news," but more importantly, how the "news" is reported on the pages of their newspaper and website.
It's not that reporters at the Miami Herald can't rise to the occasion and do quality work, because once a year, in pursuit of a Pulitzer Prize - the Holy Grail of legitimacy that absolves a winning newspaper of a lot of sins - they will expend the time and energy to cover one story the way that a newspaper should cover 6-7-8 stories a year in a city like Miami, and when they do do a political story of consequence it's about Opa Locka, or Sweetwater, or Miami Gardens, and never about the City of Miami.
From one end of Miami-Dade County to the other, dirty deals go on daily, and most of them never get covered by the Miami Herald or any of the other mainstream news media.
When it comes to TV, the odds are that you'll probably need to tune in to Univision or Telemondo to get the scoop, because on Gringo TV, stations and reporters have come to depend far too often on simple stories that focus either on violence, or on spoon fed stories that come with printed handouts that reporters can use for scripts instead of actually spending time doing real reporting.
For filler, these stations turn to "News" packages about bears, or deers or cute kids from other parts of the country because we all know that there just isn't enough real news in Miami to fill a 15-17 minute news hole.
The inside joke among local TV reporters in Miami is that the highlight of most days is trying to figure out the best place where they and their cameraperson can have lunch.
If you're someone whose interested in hard hitting local news, especially political news, my personal vote for the best reporter to follow - the one who consistently grabs politicians by their dicks and their tongues and ties them into knots - is Erika Carillo of Univision.
The above is a screen grab is from one of the 2 reports she did recently on County Mayor Carlos Gimenez's trip to China, where he and 50 other folks, 19 of them county employees, went on a trade mission that included visiting the factory where the bus/trains that Gimenez had previously claimed he thought might be good for solving a part of Miami's traffic mess were manufactured.
Carillo's questions managed to piss Gimenez off so badly that at one point he told the cameraman to turn off the TV camera. (You can watch her entire interview HERE, and even if you don't understand Spanish you'll understand that she's not taking any bullshit from Gimenez.)
When's the last time you saw a TV reporter at Channel 4, 6, 7, or 10 getting in the face of the County Mayor, or the Mayor of Miami, or any other politician for that matter, by hitting the streets and sticking a microphone in their face to nail them with hard hitting questions and refusing to accept bullshit answers?
To his credit Jim DeFede did it with corrupt State Attorney Katherine Fernandez-Rundle when she allowed Hialeah Mayor Carlos Fernandez sponsor one of her reelection fund raisers, but that's going on 2 years ago.
As part of her reporting, Carillo challenged Gimenez's claim that two of his trusted lobbyist pals, Ralph Garcia-Toledo, often referred to as his chauffer, and Jesse Manzano, his reelection campaign manager in 2011 and 2016, were not involved in the arrangements to visit this company that builds these bus/trains. (You can see this story HERE.)
The whole issue of who the lobbyists where who went on this trip turned out to be revealing, because in addition to Garcia-Toledo and Manzano, the list also included Alexander Heckler and Marcelo Llorente, both of whom, along with Jesse Manzano, are partners in LSM Partners, a growing South Florida lobbying firm who also has direct connections to Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.
This list of lobbyists also set off bells in some parts of town, because even more interesting than who went to China was who didn't: Long time Gimenez confidente and lobbyist Jorge Luis Lopez, did not go on the trip.
It's this kind of information that political players treat in the same way that witch doctors treat the entail of animals to predict the future, because in the world of influence peddling, it's always important to know who is in favor, and who isn't.
FROM CHINA TO MIAMI - JESSE MANZANO AND LSN PARTNERS DESERVE A LOT MORE ATTENTION THAN THEY'VE RECEIVED
Even Erika Carillo can't cover ALL the stories, and although I knew little about Garcia-Toledo, I had in the last several months gotten to know more about Jesse Manzano, including the fact that beside being Carlos Gimenez's campaign manager, he had also been Francis Suarez's campaign manager for his reelection to the City Commission in 2015, and in his recent race for Mayor in 2017.
Way more interesting than Manzano's role as Suarez's campaign manager, was that his wife, Sarah Manzano, had incorporated, and was the Chairperson for Suarez's Political Committee, Miami's Future, Inc.
After spending considerable time looking over Suarez's campaign and Policial Committee finance reports, I've gotten to know so much about this dynamic young couple who now seem to be at the center of the local political scene that two weeks ago I filed a 4 count complaint against Sarah Manzano and Miami's Future, Inc. for violating numerous provisions of Florida's election laws with the Florida Elections Commission. (PART II of this series will cover the complaint in detail, as well as provide more information on why LSN Partners and Llorente & Heckler are such an important part of this story.)
WHAT'S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ELECTIONS IN DICTATORSHIPS AND IN MIAMI?
Fewer than you might think.
If you were to ask people on the street, most everybody in Miami would no doubt claim they love democracy, and many would go so far as to say they especially love the flag waving, hands over your heart, don't kneel when the national anthem plays, version of democracy.
On the other hand, we constantly criticize election in other countries, especially like the ones held in the last few months in Russia and Egypt where Vladimir Putin and General Abdel Fattah el-Sissi were elected with no opposition - opposing candidates were discouraged from running and some were even put in jail to stop them from running - and both of these guys won by lopsided margins that elicited scorn and claims that their elections were rigged. Putin won with 64% of the vote, and el-Sisi won with 97% of the vote.
As true blue Americans, we often say that we don't believe those kinds of lopsided elections are really democratic, but in reality, in Miami those kind of elections happen on a pretty regular basis.
For instance: Last November Francis Suarez was elected Mayor of Miami with 85.81% of the vote in a campaign that pitted him against 3 candidates who not only were unknown to most voters, but who garnered ZERO financial support from anyone other than themselves.
In the 2013 reelection campaigns Tomas Regalado got 78.0%, Frank Carollo got 73.01% and Francis Suarez's opponent dropped out before the election. Even worse, the total number of voters who actually turn out to vote are often in the 20% range, which makes a mockery of democracy and the so-called "will of the people."
No matter how it's explained or justified, an election where a candidate receives 85.81% of the vote against 3 unknown, and unfinanced opponents does not speak well of the democratic health of the community or the electorate.
A question that no one wanted to look at then or now, was how could an election for Mayor of a major American city not produce more than a single, dynastically entitled son of a former Mayor and current County Commissioner as a viable candidate?
The conventional wisdom suggests that Suarez was seen and accepted by the local political and business establishment as a safe, dynastically entitled son of a former mayor - a mayor who was removed from office for Absentee Ballot fraud, which in Miami is not so much considered a crime by the political class as much as a badge of honor - who would continue the long tradition of doing the bidding - like Tomas Regalado and Manny Diaz before him - of the developers, real estate investors, land use lawyers and contractors who over the last 25 years shaped this community for the better and worse, and who are now seen as attempting to hold it and the politicians hostage in what some view as a final effort to squeeze every last dollar out of every high-rise condo they can build before much of the community slips under water.
Not only was Suarez promoted as a safe candidate, but to make sure that no other candidates might rise up to challenge him, the power players ponied up over million dollars to his campaign and Political Committee, including over 00,000 in an early campaign fundraiser organized by local attorney and arts patron Mike Eidson, as a way to insure that everyone got the message.
To even begin to appreciate the implications of what this kind of money means in a municipal election for a largely ceremonial position with little real power, here are some financial figures that no one in the local news media ever bothered to report on, or organize contextually, that provides insight as to not only how much money Suarez raised, but how these millions of dollars were spent during last year's election for Mayor of Miami.
IT'S ALWAYS ABOUT THE MONEY
Francis Suarez campaign account received and spent $1,273,765.80.
His political committee, Miami's Future, Inc., received another $1,328,935.00, and spent $897,725.80, for a grand total of $2,602,700.80 in donations, and $2,171,491.60 in expenses.
According to City campaign records, only one of the 3 candidates who ran against Suarez managed to self-donate ,000.00 to her campaign. The other 2 candidates never received, or self-donated a single dollar, and as a result the collective amount spent these three candidates was 000.00.
For every dollar that this one candidate spent, Francis Suarez's campaign and Political Committee spent a total of:
Given the almost total lack of name recognition, money and public support for these three candidates, fifty dollars to one would have guaranteed Suarez victory, and two hundred dollars to one would have guaranteed him a landslide.
It's true that Suarez campaigned for mayor on the promise that he would also be seeking to become a strong mayor, and actions in recent days, including the creation of a non-profit corporation on March 9th called, Miamians for an Independent and Accountable Mayor's Initiative, Inc., to change the City Charter represents his first move towards accomplishing that goal.
The closest that the Miami Herald came during the campaign to exploring the question of campaign money and the failure of his opponents to raise any money was this lone paragraph written by Herald stenographer David Smiley:
"Suarez's biggest opponent may be himself. His
well-oiled campaign machine faces opposition from
a light field comprised of a Socialist Workers Party
member, two perennial candidates and a little known
businessman running his first campaign - all with a
combined 6.14 to their names."
No one at the Miami Herald has ever demonstrated the slightest interest in doing the kind of data driven reporting that you see done in other large cities to find out who was giving Miami's Future, Inc., donations in amounts of $10,000, $15,000, $25,000, $35,000 and $50,000, and what relationships existed between Suarez and these donors, given that in Miami "Pay-For Play," ought to be the motto that hangs over the door at City Hall.
WHAT DO YOU CALL 22,500.00
In the aftermath of the recent collapse of the pedestrian bridge at FIU, much has been made about the political contributions made by the contractor for this project, Munilla Construction Management (MCM).
In a March 16th story, Miami New Times reporters Tim Elfrink and Brittany Shammas were breathless in reporting that Munilla executives and entities "dropped an eye-opening $25,000 into local campaign coffers, according to a Miami Herald analysis at the time. In fact, the firm was the only company the Herald found that had given generously to all six county commissioners running for reelection."
They also reported that in 2008, "the extended clan had dropped $34,000 to help reelect then-Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez and virtually the entire commission."
While these amount might shock some folks, it's actually chump change when you look at Francis Suarez's list of deep pocket donors who've repeatedly given him as much, if not more money than the Munilla's gave to ALL the county politicians.
The Miami Herald's description of Suarez's "well oiled campaign machine," in the David Smiley paragraph doesn't begin to do justice to the amounts of money that he has raised since he first announced he was going to run for City Commissioner in April of 2008.
In his first campaign for City Commissioner he raised $480,160.07, while his 3 opponents collectively raised $307,942.54.
In the years 2012 to 2014, after he opened his ECO to raise money for his first campaign for Mayor, The Future In Now, received $829,626.53 in donations, of which almost $500,000.00 came from developers, real estate interests, attorneys, contractors and political consultants.
In 2013 he also raised an additional $507,461.63 in direct campaign donations for his aborted campaign for Mayor, and in 2015, when he ran for reelection to the City Commission he raised another $220,884.30, against a candidate who raised $2,763.98, and dropped out of the race.
In January of 2016, he closed his ECO and transferred the remaining $301,831.32 to his new political committee, Miami's Future, Inc..
Throughout his entire political career, Suarez's single biggest campaign donor turns out to have been Midtown Opportunities. Midtown Opportunities started as collection of Delaware corporations whose owners then created a number of LLC's in Florida, in the process purchasing, selling and now currently building several high-rise condos in the Midtown area on property that they still own. ()
Midtown Opportunities donated a total of $122,500.00, to Francis Suarez's various campaigns for Commissioner and Mayor.
I have not found evidence that this company has never donated to any other candidates running for office in the City of Miami, even though when they donated to his Commission races Suarez's District did not include Midtown, and when I reached out last November to Suzanne Dewitt, listed as the Registered Agent on the corporate records of these LLC's to ask whether the rumors that beyond the various corporate shells these LLC's were actually owned by South American investors - she did not respond.
NUMBER 20 - APRIL 23, 2018
While Midtown Opportunities was Suarez's single largest contributor, other local companies and individuals, a significant number of them being property owners, developers, land use lawyers and/or lobbyists representing these interests who come before the City Commission on a regular basis for zoning changes, variances, leases of city land, and other business that require a vote have also been significant donors to his campaigns. Here is a list of some of those companies.
In addition to the donations made to Miami's Future, Inc., some of these companies and individuals also bundled 000 donations to Suarez's regular campaign account, such as the Melo family - major developers of high-rise rental units - who in July of 2016, bundled 14 - $1000 donations.
Moshi Mana, who now claims to own a large portion of the office buildings on Flagler Street donated at least $5000 more than the $35,000 he gave to Miami's Future, Inc..directly to the campaign.
Aabad Melwani, who operates the Rickenbacker Marina on a lease from the city and who had given Miami's Future, Inc., $25,000, through LAN DOWNTOWN LLC, gave another $17,000 through various companies he controls to the campaign.
Michael Simkins, who created controversy with his plans to build a 643 Foot Tower with a 30,000 square foot LED billboard display in Overtown, donated at least $13,000 through a series of companies whose addresses were 301 W. 41st Street, Miami Beach.
In December of 2016, and March of 2017, 23 companies sharing PO Box - 330967, Miami, FL 33233, donated $23,000 to the Suarez campaign.
The Adler family, who will feature more prominently in PART II of this series, in February of 2017 also came on board with $10,000 to his campaign.
The Valls family that owns La Carretta restaurants, bundled and donated $7,000.
Developer Jorge Perez came in with at least $8000, and Boardwalk Properties bundled and donated a total of $15,000 in June of 2017.
Donors, such as Wayne Rosen, who had donated $10,000 to Miami's Future Inc., also donated another $7,000 through 7 real estate companies that he controlled.
In February of 2017, Jeffrey Berkowitz, who has yet to break ground on his Skyrise Tower at Bayside, and has over the years has given money to candidates in the city like it was Monopoly money bundled $5000 through some of his companies to go along with the $12,500 he had given to Miami's Future, Inc.
I could continue this list of bundled donation, but my eyes glazed over from looking at the names of all contractors, sub-contractors, real estate developers, law firms and sundry others who had previously benefited from votes cast by Francis Suarez, and who no doubt could be expect to show up again the City of Miami's door looking for a little help from their friend.
THERE ARE FOLKS UP NORTH WHO LOVE FRANCIS SUAREZ
Companies and individuals far from Miami also felt a need to donate to Francis Suarez's campaign, including a number of folks from the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut area.
In total 18,000 was donated to Miami's Future Inc. from folks in these 3 states, including some recognizable names from those listed above like developer Moshi Mana, Pepsico, which has been involved in some refurbishment activities with a city park in Suarez's District, and the outdoor advertising companies Worldwide Rush/Amherst.
There were others who donated to Miami's Future Inc., who didn't readily fall into recognizable categories as donors to a campaign of a guy running for Mayor of Miami.
The first group consisted of 4 guys whose donations were all recorded on June 20, 2017:
While I'll be exploring other examples of how donations to the Suarez campaign raises questions about quid pro quos in PART II of this series, I have to admit that as tantalizing as some of the donations to Miami's Future, Inc., are, I don't have the financial and technology resources to do the kinds of deep data dives that these millions of dollars in donations merit.
You don't need to be a rocket scientist to look at some of these donations without walking away with serious questions about the why or who was really behind some of them, especially since some donations clearly came from folks that coule be described as "usual suspects," who have previously appeared on the pages of The Crespogram Report, other blogs and even on the pages of the Miami Herald on occasion for behaving badly.
Above and beyond the specifics of any one donation is the fact that in the real world, rich people, and especially rich people who have business dealings that involve, or require approvals of one kind or another from municipal governments like the City of Miami do not give, $5,000, $10,0000, $15,0000, $25,000, $35,000 or $50,000 to a political campaign without an expectation of receiving a RETURN ON WHAT THEY CONSIDER AN INVESTMENT.
COMING ON WEDNESDAY
IN PART II OF THIS SERIES WE'LL EXPLORE HOW THE SUAREZ CAMPAIGN AND MIAMI'S FUTURE, INC., SEEMS TO HAVE COORDINATED AND SPENT MONEY, THE INCESTOUS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN LSN PARTNERS AND FRANCIS SUAREZ, AND MY COMPLAINT TO THE FLORIDA ELECTIONS COMMISSION
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