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Poor Alex Diaz de la Portilla

Don't be fooled by the Lexus or the $795,000 house or the trips to Biloxi and Las Vegas casinos or the $15,000 in cash he loaned to his aide. State Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, a member of his chamber's Government Efficiency Appropriations Committee, says he is flat broke.

This disclosure, mind you, comes amid attempts by the Florida Elections Commission to force Diaz de la Portilla to pay a $17,000 fine for campaign violations in his 1999 special election bid for the Senate. The senator has spent the better part of the last four years fighting the commission and a prosecutor, both of whom accused him of trying to hide some $144,000 in campaign contributions from the public during his election. Along the way, he refused to attend most hearings, once filed a bill to abolish the commission, and managed to get a jury to drop the criminal charges and a court to reduce his civil fine from $311,000 to $17,000.

Now Diaz de la Portilla is employing a new strategy. He is pleading poverty, except that there is little evidence he has been standing in soup lines. In a Tallahassee courtroom last week, he acknowledged both his considerable assets and spending habits. But he gave the financial credit largely to his American Express card and his lobbyist wife. He said he owes the former $61,000 and the latter $25,000, though she apparently lets him live rent-free in their home.

The senator's testimony surely caught the attention of the IRS, but his Miami constituents might have a few questions of their own. If he can't manage his own financial affairs, can he be trusted with those of the state? If he has so little respect for state laws, how can he be in the position of making them? Diaz de la Portilla has dismissed his fine as the product of "political shenanigans," but that now seems a more apt description for his courtroom testimony.

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