For weeks, Miami auto magnate and civic activist Norman Braman has been airing television and radio ads in English and Spanish against four incumbent MIami-Dade commissioners. Braman recruited a slate of candidates to try to oust Commissioners Bruno Barreiro, Audrey Edmonson, Barbara Jordan and Dennis Moss.
Now an electioneering communications organization backed by the Miami Dolphins and the Miami Marlins is fighting back.
Miami Dade Citizens for Real Reform is airing a television spot featuring a red curtain with a spotlight. The curtains open to reveal a puppetmaster with Braman's face on it pulling the strings of the candidates he's supporting: Luis Garcia, Alison Austin, Shirley Gibson and Alice Pena.
Here's what the ad says:
"Shame on Norman Braman for trying to hijack democracy, trying to buy the election, trying to put his cronies in office, trying to bully the commission. Shirley Gibson... Alison Austin... Alice Pena... Luis Garcia... Shame on you for allowing Braman to pay for your campaign. If he pays for you now, he'll own you later."
County elections department records show the ECO's biggest contributors are the Dolphins, a Dolphins-backed committee of continuous existence registered in Tallahassee, the Marlins and Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria. Braman unsuccessfully sued the county over the plan to build the Marlins a new ballpark, largely with public money, and he has opposed using any tax dollars for sports facilities in general. The Dolphins have their eye on a roof for their stadium.
The teams and their owners have contributed or paid for, directly or through other political committees, to several groups -- including paying a corporation called Workers Just Like Us, which is registered to former South Florida AFL-CIO President Fred Frost.
Frost has led several protests against Braman -- and, on Friday, tried to tie Braman to an ongoing absentee-ballot fraud investigation. Another group connected to Frost, South Florida Jobs with Justice, will hold a press conference Monday calling for an investigation into Braman's political committees for advertising a phone number where voters can call and ask for information on how to vote by mail -- even though the practice is legal and neither Braman nor his committees have been tied to the investigation.
Ben Kuehne, an attorney for Braman's group, Change Miami-Dade Now, dismissed the group's planned event as an attempt to distrct from Tuesday's commission election. Change Miami-Dade Now directed callers on how to request absentee ballots, Kuehne said, but never collected them, handled them or asked voters to mail them to anyone other than the elections department.
The group, Kuehne said, "never touched a single ballot, never helped a voter fill out a single ballot, never took any envelopes containing ballots, never licked envelopes containing ballots, did nothing with ballots whatsoever."