Nothing has dogged Miami Republican congressional candidate Carlos Curbelo on the campaign trail more than his refusal to disclose the clients of his media and public relations firm, Capitol Gains.
The company isn't registered in his name. He hasn't appeared in corporation records filed with the state of Florida since 2009, when Curbelo says he was advised by U.S. Senate attorneys to divest from his firm. Curbelo was state director for Florida Republican Senator George LeMieux from 2009-10.
But Curbelo listed himself as the company's president, owner or principal in various federal campaign contributions he made in 2013.
That year, Curbelo donated $500 in January to Miami Republican Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart and reported his occupation as president of Capitol Gains. In May, a $2,500 contribution to Republicans for Immigration Reform, a so-called "SuperPAC," listed him as Capitol Gains' owner. And in December, in a $2,600 contribution to his own congressional campaign, Curbelo wrote that he was a Capitol Gains "principal."
That same year, Curbelo's financial disclosure filed with Congress reported the firm as an asset belonging to his wife that paid him a salary.
Curbelo readily acknowledges that he runs the firm he founded in 2002. His wife, Cecilia, who for the past five years as been listed as the corporation's sole managing member, stopped working in 2009 when the couple's first daughter, Sylvie Marie, was born.
"Each family has the right to structure its finances however it pleases, and in 2009 we made this decision when Senate lawyers recommended it," Curbelo said. "We've found no reason to change that since then. My commitment is to follow the law and to disclose all of the information that is required by the law."
He said he still has no plans to disclose his client list, saying they are common knowledge because he has been their voice in public, usually as a Spanish-language media spokesman or, in the case of Malaysian casino giant Genting, as a lobbyist. (He is no longer registered.) Curbelo has been a Hispanic spokesman for former Republican presidential candidates John McCain and Fred Thompson, and for Diaz-Balart and his brother, ex-Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, among others.
GOP primary opponents Curbelo handily defeated Tuesday had said he should disclose his clients because, as a sitting Miami-Dade County School Board member, some of the clients might do business with the public school district. He has countered that such a conflict would be prohibited, and that his firm has checked with the School Board attorney to avoid any problems.
"Everyone can go online, view all my investments, all my bank accounts, all the stocks I own," he said. "We're not very wealthy, but we're proud of what we've achieved for our family."
National Democrats have hammered Curbelo on the issue, and likely will keep doing so. Incumbent Democrat Joe Garcia himself called Curbelo a "lobbyist" the night of his primary victory.
But expect Curbelo to counter by continuing to highlight that Garcia's former chief of staff pleaded guilty last year to breaking Florida elections law and remains under federal investigation for a suspected 2010 ringer candidate. Curbelo held a news conference Thursday outside the Miami-Dade elections department to remind voters about the incidents. Garcia has denied any involvement.
"I invite Mr. Garcia and his campaign to also follow the law," Curbelo said, "something that they have struggled with in recent years."