January 11, 2016

Son of Hillary Clinton donor to run for Congress in Miami

@PatriciaMazzei

Andrew Korge, the son of Hillary Clinton campaign donor Chris Korge, will run for Congress, setting up a Democratic primary against Annette Taddeo to see who will challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo in Florida's preeminent swing district.

"I intend to file at some point in the future," Korge said, without giving a date. "I'm running for office because we need new leaders who have a 21st-century vision."

Korge had planned to run for Florida Senate. But a court-approved map appointing new district borders left the political novice without a clear way into office. His impending announcement was first reported by Politico Pro.

Taddeo, the former Miami-Dade County Democratic Party chairwoman who ran as Charlie Crist's running mate for governor in 2014, jumped in the race early. She had the backing of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which hoped to avoid a contentious primary to instead focus on unseating the freshman Curbelo.

"Annette came to this country fleeing violence, not speaking English, and was denied admission to college," her campaign manager Shaun Daniels told the Miami Herald in a statement. "She taught herself English, put herself through school working minimum wage jobs. She abandoned her career plans to help her parents rebuild their home after Hurricane Andrew, and then built one of the best small businesses in Florida from scratch, while raising a daughter. Thousands of South Floridians share those experiences and they are all inspirational. Annette's story is America's story."

Taddeo has lost three races -- she previously ran for Congress and the Miami-Dade County Commission -- and Korge may not be her only opponent. Former Rep. Joe Garcia, who held the seat for one term before being ousted by Curbelo, is also considering a candidacy. The No. 2 House Democrat, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, was recently recorded at a Taddeo fundraiser urging Korge and Garcia not to run.

Curbelo's 26th district, which extends from Westchester to Key West, was already a pickup target for Democrats before another court-approved redistricting map turned the district more Democratic.

January 04, 2016

In secret recording, No. 2 House Democrat calls on 2 potential candidates to sit out Florida race

@PatriciaMazzei

The No. 2 Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives told political donors he doesn't want two potential South Florida candidates to run for Congress because they would compete with the only person who has filed to run so far.

Democratic Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, who backs Annette Taddeo to challenge Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, headlined a fundraiser Saturday at Taddeo's home. He appears to have been secretly recorded. The audio was obtained by America Rising, a conservative super PAC.

In his remarks, Hoyer made reference to former Rep. Joe Garcia and Andrew Korge, son of Democratic fundraiser Chris Korge. Both Garcia and the younger Korge have been mulling their own candidacies.

"I want you to tell Chris," Hoyer begins in the recording, apparently referring to Andrew Korge, "and I want you to tell Joe, 'Look, this is not about personalities. This is about our best opportunity. Annette Taddeo, I tell you, is our best opportunity to win a seat in South Florida... That's why I told you I contributed. Joe Garcia is my friend; I'm not down here against Joe Garcia. But I will tell you, I don't want him to run, because I want to maximize our opportunity."

America Rising posted the audio online, along with an introduction. "While Democratic leaders are struggling to recruit viable candidates across the country, they still find time to push their heavy-handed agenda in local politics," the super PAC wrote. "The Democratic voters in Florida’s 26th District deserve the opportunity to support the candidate who suits them best, not the Washington establishment."

In a statement to the Herald, Korge took a swipe at establishment Democrats -- and Taddeo.

"Leave it to the Washington insiders to think that backing someone who has lost all three of her races is a winning strategy," he said.

In an interview with the Miami Herald, Garcia said Democrats "all want the same thing:someone who represents the interests of South Florida. Carlos has voted for Republicans and for Washington. Steny Hoyer, Annette Taddeo, Chris Korge and Andrew Korge are all good friends of mine, but this election shouldn't be decided by the leaders in Washington."

Garcia said he still hasn't made up his mind about the race: "I'm thinking, but I'm not deciding anything. There is no question that I loved representing the people of South Florida."

December 21, 2015

Joe Garcia likely won't face charges in federal case involving 2010 campaign

@PatriciaMazzei

For months, former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia has mulled running for Congress again in 2016. One thing that could weigh on his decision: It looks like he won't be getting charged in a federal criminal investigation into his 2010 campaign.

Prosecutors likely had until early November -- five years from the 2010 election -- to accuse Garcia of any wrongdoing under the statute of limitations. That date came and went without any charges being filed.

"The Force is strong with Joe Garcia," Garcia attorney David O. Markus said in a statement to the Miami Herald that invoked Star Wars. "Justice prevailed."

The office of U.S. Attorney Wifredo Ferré declined to comment.

Earlier this year, the feds charged Garcia's campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, with secretly funding a ringer tea-party candidate against Republican David Rivera in the 2010 election. Garcia and the ringer, Jose Rolando "Roly" Arrojo, were sentenced to probation and house arrest in September. 

A federal court document filed in the case suggested Jeffrey Garcia had given his boss at least a hint about his illicit plan. He emailed Joe Garcia twice referring to getting a tea partier in the race, and a third time saying "Plan Roli is still moving."

"I am seeking funding," Jeffrey Garcia wrote. "I have till mid-week next week to execute."

Garcia did not respond to any of his campaign manager's emails about recruiting the ringer. If he had, the feds might have charged Garcia as a "co-conspirator," according to legal experts.

Rivera ultimately won the election; Joe Garcia ousted him in 2012. Garcia then lost to another Republican, Carlos Curbelo, in 2014 after Jeffrey Garcia was embroiled in a state criminal case involving unlawful absentee-ballot requests.

A separate federal criminal investigation into a 2012 Democratic ringer candidate tied to Rivera remains stalled.

--with Jay Weaver

This post has been updated to note the U.S. attorney's office declined to comment, rather than did not respond.

September 14, 2015

Aide to ex-Rep. Joe Garcia gets house arrest, probation for putting up ringer candidate against David Rivera in 2010

Garcia+folo+10-22+pool+AM

via @jayhweaver

At first, it looked like the former campaign manger for ex-Miami Congressman Joe Garcia was heading to prison for breaking an election law, even after a prosecutor recommended probation as punishment.

“The problem is, this type of crime strikes at the very core of our democracy,” U.S. District Judge Jose Martinez declared on Monday, noting that he found it “infuriating” the way outsiders think of Miami as a “Banana Republic” because of all its fraud and corruption.

But in the end, after telling the defense attorney for Jeffrey Garcia that he was confronting an “uphill road,” Martinez gave the defendant a two-year probationary sentence with eight months of home confinement and a $1,000 fine.

Martinez cited prosecutor Kimberly Selmore’s support for the lenient sentence, along with defense attorney Henry Bell’s arguments that his client cooperated extensively with the FBI investigation, including testifying before the grand jury, and had already been severely punished after losing his solid career as a once-respected political strategist.

“We felt we were on high ground arguing for no jail time,” Bell said after the hearing.

Garcia, convicted of a misdemeanor in a plea deal, faced up to one year in prison for illegally financing the campaign of a ringer tea party candidate whose role in the 2010 congressional election was designed to help the Democratic bid of Garcia's boss, Joe Garcia, against Republican David Rivera.

More here.

Photo credit: Alvaro Mata, pool photo (Miami Herald file)

June 12, 2015

Joe Garcia insists he knew nothing of 2010 ringer candidate

via @jayhweaver

Former Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia is sticking to his longstanding position that he knew nothing about his onetime campaign manager's recruitment of a ringer tea party candidate in a 2010 Miami congressional election   -- despite just-disclosed emails suggesting otherwise.

"I've been clear on this, and the emails are pretty clear," Garcia told the Miami Herald on Friday.

Not exactly. On Thursday, a federal court document was disclosed that suggests Garcia’s former campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, communicated with him by email in February 2010 about his illicit political strategy to recruit a "shadow" candidate to draw votes away from the GOP's David Rivera in the 2010 race.

“If I got a Tea Party candidate in the race, that will improve your odds,” Jeffrey Garcia emailed Joe Garcia, identified as “Candidate A” in the court record.

A week later, Jeffrey Garcia sent Joe Garcia another email entitled: “YOU WILL WIN IF,” followed by a bullet point stating, “Tea Party Candidate (will happen.)”

In April that year, Jeffrey Garcia wrote to the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, stating that “Plan Roli is still moving. I am seeking funding. I have till mid-week next week to execute.”

Continue reading "Joe Garcia insists he knew nothing of 2010 ringer candidate" »

June 11, 2015

Ex-Rep. Joe Garcia may have known about 'shadow' candidate, court record shows

via @jayhweaver

For nearly five years, former Miami Democratic Congressman Joe Garcia has denied that he knew his onetime campaign manager recruited a “shadow” tea party candidate to run in the 2010 congressional election against Garcia’s Republican nemesis, David Rivera.

But a federal court document disclosed Thursday suggests that Garcia’s former campaign manager, Jeffrey Garcia, communicated with him by email in February 2010 about his illicit campaign strategy.

“If I got a Tea Party candidate in the race, that will improve your odds,” Jeffrey Garcia emailed Joe Garcia, identified as “Candidate A” in the court record.

A week later, Jeffrey Garcia sent Joe Garcia another email entitled: “YOU WILL WIN IF,” followed by a bullet point stating, “Tea Party Candidate (will happen.)”

In April that year, Jeffrey Garcia wrote to the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, stating that “Plan Roli is still moving. I am seeking funding. I have till mid-week next week to execute.”

Joe Garcia, who lost his congressional seat last year, has long denied any involvement in his former campaign manager’s violation of federal election laws. He has not been charged in the FBI-led case brought against Jeffrey Garcia and Arrojo.

“Thank goodness that the emails were finally released,” Joe Garcia's defense attorney, David O. Markus, told the Miami Herald on Thursday. “A review of all of the emails proves that Joe had no knowledge of any illegal activity. As we have said from day 1, Joe has done nothing wrong.” 

More here.

April 24, 2015

Feds charge ex-chief of staff to former Rep. Joe Garcia with secretly financing ringer candidate

@PatriciaMazzei @jayhweaver

Federal prosecutors on Friday accused former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia’s ex-chief of staff of secretly financing a ringer tea-party candidate in 2010 to draw votes away from a Republican rival — an illegal scheme that inspired a more serious copycat case two years later.

Jeffrey Garcia was charged with conspiracy to give a campaign contribution of less than $25,000, a misdemeanor offense. Prosecutors say Garcia, no relation to the former congressman, put up the $10,440 qualifying fee for the shadow candidate, Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, to pose as another challenger to David Rivera.

Arrojo was also charged Friday with the same misdemeanor.

Rivera is suspected of following a similar playbook in 2012 to prop up a Democratic candidate against Joe Garcia. Rivera has not been charged, although two others in that case — the straw candidate and Rivera’s ex-girlfriend — were convicted.

Jeffrey Garcia himself confessed his actions to prosecutors three years after the fact, his attorney said. The charge, filed in U.S. District Court, paves the way for Garcia, 44, to surrender to authorities next week and then plead guilty in the hope of receiving a light sentence. The same outcome is likely for Arrojo, 41.

More here.

February 24, 2015

Joe Garcia gets new gig with Miami Beach merchant and investment bank, talks new U.S.-Cuba policy

@PatriciaMazzei

Former Miami Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia has taken on a job as senior vice president of QueensFort Capital, a Miami Beach-based merchant and investment bank.

The ex-congressman told the Miami Herald he will work to expand investment opportunities through federal government's EB-5 visa program, which requires investors to put up big money -- at least $1 million, or $500,000 in high-unemployment areas -- in exchange for a two-year U.S. residency green card for themselves and their immediate family. If the investments succeed and create at least 10 U.S. jobs, investors gain permanent residency plus dividends.

None of the work will involve Cuba, said Garcia, a Cuban American who had been the only South Florida member of Congress advocating for greater engagement with the island before he lost reelection to Republican Carlos Curbelo in November. Still, he was surprised by the extent of President Obama's new Cuba policy, Garcia said Tuesday.

"I think the administration probably went a little bit further that I had assumed it would," he said.

He compared trying to bring about political change in Cuba to changing "a religion, not a policy" ingrained on the island for more than half a century: "The idea that this is going to be easy is nonsense."

"I think this could all be solved if Cuban Americans and Cubans were speaking," he said. "If the Cuba government was wise, it would reach out to leaders and opinion makers in South Florida to create some sort of rapprochement that benefits the U.S. and Cuba."

And if Obama wants a long-term change that outlasts his administration, then his government also has to reach out to Cuban Americans sidelined from the new policy, he added.

As for talk that Garcia might challenge Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez next year, the former congressman brushed off the rumors.

"I am not running for any public office," he said.

January 22, 2015

Headlined by Donna Shalala, Ready For Hillary PAC to raise Miami $ in Bush/Rubio country

@MarcACaputo

Ready4HillIs Miami ready for Hillary Clinton?

The Ready for Hillary PAC is about to find out Feb. 12, when the political committee holds its first major South Florida fundraiser.

It’s headlined by the former Secretary of State’s close friend, outgoing University of Miami President Donna Shalala, the former health secretary under President Clinton.

This is only the beginning of the 2016 fundraising season, so expect more because Miami-Dade has some of the deepest pockets for Florida fundraisers, making it a regular stop on the political money-grubbing circuit.

This fundraiser is set to be held at the home of philanthropist Adrienne Arsht (after whom the county’s performing arts center is named). The host committee includes Hispanic-outreach wiz Freddy Balsera, fundraiser-lawyer Mitchell Berger, former DNC treasurer Bob Farmer, former U.S. Rep. Hon. Joe Garcia, lobbyist Alex Heckler, and former Clinton White House aide and current Arsht Foundation executive Suzanna Valdez.

The Miami fundraiser has an added dose of political interest because it’s being held in the home county of potential Hillary Clinton rivals, former Gov. Jeb Bush and U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

As the state’s most-populous and most-Hispanic county, Miami-Dade is also one of the most hotly contested, although it has trended more and more Democrat in recent years. Bush is the only Republican in at least 15 years who has one a majority of the vote in Miami-Dade County (53 percent in 2002). Rubio in his 2010 bid for Senate won the county with 43 percent of the vote, but that’s partly because then-U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek and then-independent Gov. Charlie Crist.

Last year as a Democrat, Crist won a greater share of the Miami-Dade vote in his failed bid for governor, 58 percent. But in raw votes (541,000) and in percentage terms (62 percent), President Obama in 2012 firmly established Miami-Dade as a Democratic bulwark.

With margins like that, it’s not easy to see how Bush or Rubio could beat Clinton in their home county. But both speak Spanish, unlike Clinton and unlike 2012 GOP nominee Mitt Romney.

Romney lost the county by more votes (208,459) than any other recent Republican candidate. That margin helped cost Romney must-win Florida and, therefore, the White House. Romney's hardline positions on immigration likely helped cost him a significant portion of the Hispanic vote, the state and nation's fastest growing major demographic that promises to be even more influential in 2016.

So it's a good bet that Miami, and perhaps Florida, is far less likely ready for Mitt than Hillary

November 19, 2014

South Florida Dems to Obama: Venezuelans should be part of executive action on immigration

@PatriciaMazzei

Two South Florida Democratic members of Congress have penned a letter to President Obama asking him to specifically include Venezuelans in his planned executive action on immigration.

U.S. Reps. Joe Garcia of Miami and Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, the Democratic National Committee chairwoman, wrote in the letter Tuesday that Obama should provide "administrative relief protections for thousands of Venezuelans who have fled Venezuela and are fearful of returning."

"Political and economic conditions in Venezuela have been declining for years, but now the Venezuelan people are facing a government that would rather repress and demonize its own citizens than engage in dialogue to address the serious problems facing the country," they said.

Any action could apply to Venezuelans who arrived in the U.S. before December 2011, the cutoff date for the Senate immigration-reform bill yet to be taken up by the House of Representatives, the letter says. Or Obama could authorize "delayed enforced departure," a protection similar to the one granted to people with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

"Their inclusion in administrative relief falls in line with the purpose of such action which should be to provide relief from deportation to those who have established lives and families in the U.S. and whose deportations would rip apart communities."

South Florida is home to the largest number of Venezuelans outside of the South American country -- including a large contingent in Wasserman Schultz's hometown, which is known as Westonzuela. Garcia, who lost reelection earlier this month to Republican Carlos Curbelo, has filed legislation to give Venezuelans special immigration status, but it has gone nowhere.