MIAMI — A Gainesville Republican research firm that was involved in a 2018 vote-siphoning scheme was served a subpoena in the state’s case against a former senator who they allege recruited and paid a no-party candidate to run with the intention of securing a GOP win.
Court records obtained by the Miami Herald show Data Targeting Inc., run by longtime operative Pat Bainter, was served a subpoena for emails, invoices and contracts related to former state Sen. Frank Artiles and his Miami firm, Atlas Consulting LLC.
Artiles, 48, is facing several felony charges for allegedly recruiting and paying Alexis Pedro Rodriguez, an auto-parts dealer and longtime acquaintance, to run as a no-party candidate in Senate District 37. Rodriguez is facing similar charges.
Data Targeting’s relevant documents — which were provided to the state attorney’s office in late April — remain under a protective order put forward by Artiles’ defense team, who asked a Miami District Court judge last month to hold back releasing a large amount of potential evidence.
Though the potential evidence has not yet been made public, the list of items provided to the Miami Herald’s lawyers offers a glimpse into the entities that may have information about those who played a role in the 2020 ghost candidate scandal.
The Herald requested the discovery documents in early May.
In 2018, a similar playbook was evident in Senate District 8, where Gainesville City Commissioner Charles Goston, a lifelong Democrat, jumped late into the District 8 race as an independent. He ran against incumbent Republican Keith Perry and Democrat physician Kayser Enneking.
Goston’s individual campaign funding came largely from Tallahassee groups that listed the same post office box as the address. The political committee behind his campaign was funded entirely by dark money group Broken Promises.
In the end, Perry beat Enneking by about 2,300 votes. Goston received about 4,300 votes.
Soon after the election, the no-party candidate filed a complaint against the Democrat citing improper use of her University of Florida email. The Gainesville Sun reported in 2019 that it was a research director with Data Targeting who had made the public records request for the emails, and paid more than $7,000 for them.
According to his arrest warrant, Artiles allegedly offered Rodriguez $50,000 to run as an independent in Miami-Dade’s Senate District 37 race. The goal, prosecutors allege, was to “confuse voters and influence the outcome” of the race to represent Senate District 37, a large swath that includes downtown Miami, Coral Gables and Pinecrest.
Rodriguez, who was a Republican before he was allegedly told to switch to no party affiliation, did not independently campaign. His candidacy was promoted by mailed political advertisements paid for by dark-money groups, a scheme that was ultimately successful.
GOP candidate Ileana Garcia, a television personality and co-founder of Latinas for Trump, won the race by 32 votes. Rodriguez, who shared a surname with Democrat incumbent José Javier Rodríguez, netted more than 6,000 votes.
Artiles and Alex Rodriguez pleaded not guilty and asked for jury trials last month. Dates have not yet been set, but the case will play out in the 11th Judicial Circuit in Miami.
In Central Florida’s Senate District 9 race in 2020, a nearly identical vote-siphoning tactic was used with no-party candidate Jestine Iannotti, who ran against Democrat attorney Patricia Sigman and GOP state Rep. Jason Brodeur, who won the race.
Sigman was bashed in attack mail advertisements paid for by the group Floridians for Equality. The newly-formed group’s main expenditure was advertising, supplied by another newly-formed company managed by Tallahassee attorney David P. Healy, as first reported by the Orlando Sentinel.
Healy represented Bainter and Data Targeting after they were sued over 2012 congressional and state Senate district maps that the League of Women Voters alleged were gerrymandered, an illegal process of manipulating district lines to favor one political party.
In her opinion, Florida Supreme Court Judge Barbara Pariente wrote: “Bainter and other political consultants acted in concert with the Legislature to produce individual districts and an overall redistricting map favorable to the Republican Party …”
After the ruling, the courts had the districts redrawn ahead of the 2016 election.
Bainter is a longtime Republican operative whose firm has had a hand in hundreds of GOP campaigns up and down Florida and even in other states. Bainter was notably thrust into the public light because of the redistricting scandal.
During the 2020 election cycle, Bainter’s firm was paid more than $7.2 million by the committee tasked with electing Republicans to the state Senate, according to Florida Senatorial Campaign Committee expenditure reports.
When asked about the fact that Data Targeting was served a subpoena, the Florida Senatorial Campaign Committee, chaired by Senate President Wilton Simpson, said that the FRSCC “has full confidence that our team conducted campaigns with integrity.”
“President Simpson has welcomed an investigation,” spokeswoman Erin Isaac wrote in a text.
Neither Bainter nor Data Targeting Chief Financial Officer Lance Gardner responded to phone calls or emails seeking comment.