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Secret donor name in Florida Senate races wiped from records, replaced

Two political committees — Our Florida and The Truth — amended campaign filings and changed the name of an entity that funded political mailers for spoiler candidates from Proclivity to Grow United Inc.
Voters in Senate District 37 received dark money-funded mailers that featured little-known, no-party candidate Alex Rodriguez. The mailers aimed to “confuse” voters.
Voters in Senate District 37 received dark money-funded mailers that featured little-known, no-party candidate Alex Rodriguez. The mailers aimed to “confuse” voters. [ Times/Herald ]
Published Dec. 15, 2020

MIAMI — The name of the mystery donor behind a $550,000 effort that helped promote no-party candidates in three key Florida Senate races, including one that is under investigation, was changed in campaign finance reports over the weekend.

While making changes to fix errors in campaign finance reports is common, election attorneys, say it is unusual to see political committees change the name of their sole donor two months after the fact.

Even so, two political committees — Our Florida and The Truth — amended campaign filings and changed the name of the entity that funded the political mailers from Proclivity to Grow United Inc., a tax-exempt corporation that is also registered in Delaware and whose address is a post office box in Denver.

Unlike Proclivity, however, Grow United Inc. has made other donations in Florida politics, including to the Florida Democratic Party and other affiliated committees, including the one that led Senate Democratic campaigns.

The amount and date of the donations to the political committees that purchased the political mail are identical. Treasurers who update information on their campaign finance records are doing so under oath.

“The Division of Elections allows a political committee or candidate to amend reports in order to fix errors,” said Natalie Kato, a Tallahassee-based elections and campaign finance attorney. “However, completely changing the sole donor to a political committee after the election is arguably not in the spirit of the law, and could be the basis of a complaint.”

If it is determined the political committees intentionally changed the name to conceal the donor, or to make the contribution in the name of another, fines or criminal penalties could be involved, Kato said.

The name change in campaign finance records came to light on Sunday and was first reported by WPLG-10′s Glenna Milberg.

The mystery donor has been the focus of a dark money mystery during the 2020 election cycle.

Its $550,000 in untraceable contributions to the political committees funded political mailers that were sent to voters in Senate Districts 9, 37 and 39 in the month leading up to the Nov. 3 election. The ads talked up no-party candidates that did no independent campaigning as ones with progressive ideals in an apparent attempt to reach Democratic voters and divert some votes from the Democratic candidates in those races.

Miami-Dade prosecutors are investigating the mysterious candidacy of the no-party candidate in Senate District 37. The investigation is “open and pending,” a spokeswoman for the Miami-Dade state attorney’s office confirmed to the Miami Herald on Monday. That race was decided by 32 votes out of more than 215,000 cast and ousted an incumbent Democrat.

Miami state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat who serves as vice chair for the Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections, said she finds the sudden name change of the donor “really odd” and said it leaves her with “more questions than answers” about the donor.

“This is just troubling. People want to know, who’s who’s funding things and where it’s coming from,” Taddeo said. “Chances are this was a wire [transfer] for that huge amount of money. You don’t get the entity wrong. It is very weird.”

Officials with the Florida Department of State, which oversees campaigns and elections, did not respond when asked if the state was aware of the donor name change or whether it is looking into what prompted it.

Grow United ‘delinquent’ in Delaware

There is no way to confirm Grow United Inc. donated the money because the entity has no information on file with the state of Delaware. It is “delinquent and not in good standing” for failure to file its annual report with the state, according to its registered agent, The Corporation Trust Company.

The annual report would include more information about the entity, including its mission statement, an address and the name of at least one of its officers.

Proclivity, which lists an Atlanta UPS box as its only address, shares the same registered agent in Delaware with Grow United. Proclivity, however, is in good standing with the state.

While Grow United’s paper trail ends in Delaware, campaign finance reports give more detail on its political footprint in Florida.

The newly amended campaign finance reports show Grow United’s first political contributions in Florida were made on Oct. 3 to Our Florida and The Truth, the committees that propped up the no-party Senate candidates.

It donated a total of $1.4 million this election cycle, including $530,000 combined to the Florida Democratic Party and the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign that serves as the political arm for the Senate Democratic campaign.

The group donated to other political committees that backed Democrats but also made large donations to groups like Liberate Florida, which spent its money on contributions to GOP candidates, consultants and conservative political committees in October.

A rare mistake

Juan Carlos Planas, an elections attorney and former Republican state lawmaker, said while changing donor information due to typographical errors or missing numbers is common, it is rare to see an amended report when there is a sole donor and, therefore, less to keep track of.

“General amendments happen every day, but when there is just one check, people don’t make mistakes,” said Planas, who represented former Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez during the Senate District 37 recount, in which one of the no-party candidates was involved. “It’s highly suspicious. I have never seen it. The way this changed, I’ve never seen that done.”

Anders Croy, a spokesman for Senate Victory, the campaign arm of Senate Democratic campaigns, pinned the strange occurrence on Republican strategists.

“Republicans in Florida clearly employed a strategy of propping up NPA candidates in order to trick voters and siphon votes from Democratic candidates,” he said. “This ‘amended report’ is an unprecedented yet transparent attempt to continue the cover-up of their involvement and is a direct affront to our state’s campaign finance laws.”

Donations to Democrats

Grow United Inc. contributed $360,000 to Senate Victory and $170,000 to the Florida Democratic Party in mid and late October. Croy declined to comment on the contributions to Senate Victory.

“Many organizations, candidates and campaigns raise money into the Florida Democratic Party to support our efforts to elect Democratic candidates, promote Democratic values, and build infrastructure to expand the electorate. All funds raised into the Florida Democratic Party are used for those purposes,” FDP spokeswoman Alexandra Caffrey said in a statement.

Attempts to reach Sierra Olive and Hailey DeFillipis, two women with no known political experience who are listed as the chairs and treasurers of the Our Florida and The Truth political committees, have been unsuccessful for several weeks.

Olive, who chairs Our Florida PC, declined to comment on Monday through Alex Alvarado, a GOP consultant who knows herand who has been paid by three political committees that received money from Grow United Inc. in October.