Two South Florida state representatives running for reelection appear to have used taxpayer money to send office mailers to residents outside of their current districts –- a no-no under House policy.
Rep. Joe Gibbons, a Hallandale Beach Democrat, and Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, are both running for new seats after once-a-decade redistricting. House policy allows representatives to send taxpayer-funded mail to constituents in their current districts, but not to those in the newly redrawn districts they are seeking.
Legislators typically send newsletters to their constituents after the annual legislative session. In advance of those mailings, House Republican leader Carlos Lopez-Cantera sent an email to Republican members in March reminding them of the House policy manual that states, "Generally, a Member may mail or distribute mass communications only to current constituents from that Member's district."
"Please remember to use the House District number that you currently represent in any mass communications," Lopez-Cantera's email said. "Voters in the newly numbered House Districts will only become your constituents upon the November election."
At least three people who live outside of Nuñez's current District 112 -– including Libby Perez, her primary challenger for the new District 119 –- received mail from Nuñez's state office in recent weeks. One was a newsletter recapping the legislative session. The other was a letter noting Nuñez's support for legislation to address the victims of sexual exploitation and human trafficking.
"If she can't follow basic guidelines and rules that pertain to her constituents, how can we as voters be assured that she's going to follow the rules for anything else?" Perez said. "I feel it is an abuse of her position and taxpayer money."
Nuñez said she is very familiar with the House policies and the pieces, intended for her District 112 constituents, should not have gone out to residents of the new District 119, which covers a swath of Southwest Miami-Dade.
"I find that very strange," she said. "I've given very specific instructions, based on House rules, that campaign is campaign and House stuff is House stuff."
Nuñez said she would contact her mailing vendor to make certain the campaign addresses have not been commingled with those of her constituents to prevent future mailings from going to the wrong households. Nuñez, who was first elected in 2010, has far outraised Perez -- Nuñez has raised $243,971 to Perez's $9,295 -- who ran unsuccessfully two years ago for Miami-Dade School Board.
For his part, Gibbons' May 14 mailer also drew the ire of his primary opponent, former Surfside Town Commissioner Sheldon Lisbon, in the latest controversy in the contest. Like with Nuñez's race, the Aug. 14 primary winner will take the seat because no candidate filed from the opposing party.
Gibbons said he has done nothing wrong and says he was following the direction of House officials who asked his office to provide constituent service to a neighboring district a few months after state Rep. Richard Steinberg, a Miami Beach Democrat, resigned amid an investigation for sending sexual texts to a federal prosecutor.
The question is whether House policies would give Gibbons some flexibility, since he was asked to provide constituent services to another district. Efforts to immediately get an answer from the House general counsel were unsuccessful Wednesday.
House Democratic spokesman Mark Hollis sent an email March 29 reminding Democrats about the June 8 deadline to send newsletters. That email didn’t directly discuss the rule about limiting newsletters to within a member's current district, but it had an attachment for the House policy that contains that rule. Hollis sent another reminder to members in April to consult the House policy related to newsletters.
Gibbons said the warning about the deadline sounded familiar but he didn't recall receiving any warnings about only sending communications to his current district.
All state-funded mass communications with the public are approved prior to publication jointly by the offices of the majority and minority leaders. But the approval is for content -- not who will receive it.
Gibbons has a campaign account that is nearly double Lisbon's, but due to redistricting, this could be a competitive contest. Gibbons landed in coastal District 100 where the majority of the voters live in Miami-Dade. Only about one-quarter of the district overlaps with Gibbons' current district. The northern part of Steinberg’s district was moved into the new District 100, and Gibbons said "that's where the mailer went" in addition to his current District 105.
Ryan Duffy, a House spokesman, confirmed that House administration asked Gibbons to handle constituent issues for Steinberg's district when it closed in May.
Gibbons' mailer stated that during the session he focused on "ways to help bolster Florida's economic rebound and to create jobs for Floridians." The mailer also included a list of bills he sponsored and mentioned some that relate to helping children, seniors and community associations.
A spokesman for Lisbon, Elliot Schreiber, raised concerns about Gibbons' mailer (see the mailer here
"How ethical is it to campaign using taxpayer's dollars in a district which he does not represent?"Schreiber wrote in an email to the Miami Herald.
--AMY SHERMAN AND PATRICIA MAZZEI