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Marco Rubio cameo in secret-money campaign that stalled the Rep. David Rivera investigation

Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera isn't completely in the clear. The state investigation into him has stalled. But there's still a federal probe (but that seems slow-going).

The state investigation (in case you didn't click the first hypertexted sentence) revolved around the money Rivera raised and spent on a Miami-Dade Republican Committeeman race.

The story about the secret-money campaign is a good slice of political life in Miami, with cameos by former state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, one-time Rep. Julio Robaina and current U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who made robo-calls for Rivera.

Here's the Sept. 5, 2008 Miami Herald story in full


Secret money. Three big-name Miami pols. And a race for a little-known office that even the incumbent said was ``a notch above dog-catcher.''

The contest for Miami-Dade Republican Executive Committeeman ended last month with a big win for Miami Rep. David over state Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Julio Robaina -- but some questions and hard feelings linger.

The election is a warm-up for things to come in 2010, when all three Republican Miami-Dade senate seats open due to term limits. Rivera, Robaina and one of Diaz de la Portilla's two brothers -- Miguel or Renier -- are expected to jostle for them. Also potentially in the fray: Rep. Rene Garcia, Rep. Marcelo Llorente and outgoing House Speaker Marco Rubio.

The race for the Miami-Dade Republican committeeman seat is considered a valuable proving ground for a candidate's popularity for the upcoming Senate races.

Rubio made pre-recorded calls in the committeeman race for Rivera, the incumbent, who also issued loads of fliers, palm cards and Spanish-language television commercials. His opponents estimate he spent up to $250,000 for it all.

Rivera won't say how much he ponied up, or where the money came from. He doesn't have to. The post isn't covered by state campaign-finance law, making it almost impossible to track the money.

In every county, party voters chose a committeeman and committeewoman to sit on statewide executive board. Their jobs: to help influence the direction of the party, raise money and find candidates for office. Rivera said he ran for reelection because he cares about the direction of the party.

He downplayed the importance of the position. ''Committeeman is a notch above dog-catcher,'' said Rivera, who suggested that Robaina ran against him due to personal animus.

Robaina, though, said he ran because ''Republicans are losing Miami-Dade County'' and blamed the lack of direction partly on Rivera.

Diaz de la Portilla congratulated Rivera on his win but said he ran against the incumbent because he thought he could raise more money for the party.

Diaz de la Portilla and Robaina both estimate that Rivera spent up to $250,000 on the race. Robaina said he spent less than $100 for his campaign. And Diaz de la Portilla said a third-party electioneering group, called Floridians for Effective Leadership in Government, spent about $7,000 on his race. The Jacksonville-based group has ties to everything from healthcare companies to gambling interests.

Rivera would only say that ''friends and family'' helped his campaign.

Rivera said he was ''honored and humbled'' that he beat two ''household names in Miami-Dade politics,'' and that Robaina is mad because he lost.

Rivera won the Hialeah and West Miami Republican Senate seats that Rudy Garcia and Alex Villalobos are leaving, respectively. Diaz de la Portilla, forced from office in 2010 by term limits, narrowly came in second in both those districts and won his own.

Robaina came in third in all those Senate districts and even lost the precincts in his own House district. Robaina said the loss says more about Rivera than his own campaign.

''I spent three cents for every vote. He probably spent $20,'' Robaina said. ``This election isn't about me. . . . My concern now is where is all the money coming from? Why is this so important to spend all this money and not disclose that?''