U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia has had the roughest of days for a congressional freshman: His former campaign team is under investigation for possible elections crimes and a bevy of Republicans is lining up to take him out.
But none of it has appeared to really hurt the Miami Democrat’s fundraising.
Garcia’s team announced he raised about $440,000 in the last three months and has about $800,000 cash on hand.
"We are honored by the overwhelming support and I will continue to reach across the aisle and push for real immigration reform, improve our economy and get our fiscal house in order,” Garcia said in a written statement. “This also means pushing everyday for student loan reform until we succeed."
Garcia sits in one of the most-competitive seats in Florida, District 26. Democrats narrowly outnumber Republicans, but the sizable number of independents make it a truly swing district.
We told you about it yesterday (and for weeks before), now here's the press release making it official:
Carlos Curbelo Announces Campaign for US Congress
School Board Member Rejects District's History of Scandal and Fraud
MIAMI- Surrounded by his family in the backyard of his Kendall home, School Board Member Carlos Curbelo declared his candidacy for US Congress, District 26.
Before highlighting priorities like the economy, ethics, and education, Curbelo vowed to wage a new type of campaign.
Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo is poised to make official his bid to challenge Congressman Joe Garcia.
Curbelo, joined by his family, will make an announcement regarding the District 26 congressional race at his Kendall home on Tuesday. He formed an exploratory committee on May 20 to gear up for a run.
"All the responses I've received have been very positive and very encouraging," Curbelo told the Miami Herald on Monday.
urbelo, a Republican political consultant, has repeatedly pounced on Garcia, a Miami Democrat, over an investigation into fraudulent absentee-ballot requests that has engulfed the congressman's office since May 31. He released a poll last month showing Garcia's popularity is somewhat soft in his Kendall-to-Key West district. Garcia's office has dismissed the survey as "skewed."
Garcia's fundraising totals for the quarter that ended June 30 have not yet been posted, but his campaign thanked supporters in a July 2 email.
"With your help we hit our online fundraising goals," he said. "Because of the overwhelming support we've received over [the] past six months - we are in a strong position to hold this seat next November."
The GOP field of potential Garcia challengers appears crowded, with former Miami-Dade Commission Chairman Joe Martinez and Cutler Bay Mayor Ed MacDougall both announcing runs earlier this year. Other candidates could still jump in or leave the race, since there is plenty of time left to qualify for the 2014 election.
Curbelo would not have to resign his School Board seat, to which he was elected last year, to run for Congress.
UPDATED Aide to Miami Congressman Joe Garcia embroiled in absentee-ballot fraud investigation resigns
Giancarlo Sopo, Congressman Joe Garcia’s communications director who has been ensnared in an ongoing criminal investigation into fraudulent absentee-ballot requests, has resigned.
Sopo informed Garcia, a Miami Democrat, of his resignation Friday, Garcia’s office confirmed Monday.
“I thanked him for his service to our office,” Garcia said. “I understand that he is cooperating with investigators and hope that this will give him an opportunity to resolve this matter.”
Sopo declined to comment. His attorney, Gus Lage, said Sopo resigned “for personal and financial reasons, and also because he didn’t want to be a further distraction to the congressman’s work.”
Sopo had been placed on unpaid administrative leave last month, days after Miami-Dade prosecutors and police raided his cousin’s home in connection with the scheme to request ballots online for nearly 500 unsuspecting voters in the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia said at the time that he did not immediately fire Sopo — opening the congressman to criticism from Republicans — because Sopo told Garcia he wasn’t involved in the plot.
Sopo recruited his friends or family to assist, Lage said — presumably either to compile or submit the ballot requests.
“If there was any illegality to what was done, Mr. Sopo did not appreciate that at the time,” Lage said, adding that he has met with prosecutors investigating the case. “If there was, he wouldn’t have had his cousin, sister and friends of his do this.”
Garcia swiftly dismissed former chief of staff and top political adviser Jeffrey Garcia, no relation, when he admitted to his boss that he orchestrated the attempt to manipulate the election.
This post has been updated with comments from Joe Garcia and Gus Lage.
Justin Sternad, a convicted Miami-Dade congressional candidate whose Democratic primary campaign was suspected of being run behind the scenes by former Republican Rep. David Rivera, was set to portray himself as a “pawn” of others at his scheduled sentencing Monday for violating campaign finance laws.
But the judge postponed the sentencing until Sept. 23, after asking the government what other cases Sternad is helping them make as part of his cooperation agreement. The prosecutor did not want to publicly disclose that information, so the parties had a private conversation with the judge before she delayed the proceeding. Rivera’s name was not publicly mentioned.
Sternad, the political newcomer who has become a key FBI witness in the federal case against Rivera and his friend, Ana Alliegro, does not implicate the pair in a court filing in which he seeks a probationary sentence for his crime. But his lawyer, in the filing, emphasizes Sternad’s minor role in the suspected campaign plot by Rivera and Alliegro to undermine the Democratic bid of the congressman’s eventual rival, Joe Garcia, who beat Rivera in the 2012 general election.
“Justin Sternad is not a bad guy,” his defense attorney, Enrique “Rick” Yabor, wrote in court papers.
@PatriciaMazzei & @MarcACaputo
A leading rival of U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia released a new poll Monday that shows the incumbent has a double-digit lead but a major vulnerability: the absentee-ballot fraud scandal haunting his campaign.
The poll shows Garcia, a Miami Democrat, leading 46 percent to 34 percent in a potential 2014 matchup against Republican Carlos Curbelo, the Miami-Dade School Board member who commissioned the survey.
But among those who had heard about the Garcia campaign’s involvement in the fraudulent absentee-ballot requests scheme, the race is a “dead heat,” the poll says, with Curbelo leading Garcia 40 percent to 39 percent.
Garcia’s office said he is not worried about poll numbers but rather about building a track record as a first-year congressman.
“Even in a skewed partisan poll the Congressman remains very strong and likely to be re-elected,” Raul Martinez Jr., Garcia’s district director and political advisor, said in a statement. “Congressman Garcia is not focused on partisan politics. Congressman Garcia remains focused on serving the community by dealing with immigration reform, getting the country’s fiscal house in order and fueling the economic recovery.”
Garcia has been in damage control since May 31, when Miami-Dade state attorney’s office investigators raided three locations associated with his campaign manager and a former campaign worker who also served as his congressional spokesman.
National Republicans, who have seized on the fraudulent absentee-ballot request investigation engulfing Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia's campaign, plan to attack the Miami congressman in a new online ad.
The National Republican Congressional Committee ad, slated to be posted on the web Tuesday, features a clip of a television spot from Garcia's 2010 campaign in which he said, "Scandals, corruption, partisan infighting -- no wonder people have lost faith in Congress."
Now it's Garcia involved in scandal, the ad notes, cutting to recent news clips about the dismissal of the congressman's chief of staff for apparently directing campaign staffers to submit phony absentee-ballot requests. The ad calls on Garcia "to come clean" in the probe or resign. Garcia has said he had no knowledge of or involvement in the scheme, and prosecutors from the Miami-Dade state attorney's office have so far backed him up.
Here's the ad:
@MarcACaputo and @Patricia Mazzei
As rivals call on the FBI to examine a former mystery opponent of Congressman Joe Garcia, the Miami Herald has uncovered a new connection between them: Both used the same print shop for campaign mailers.
But the print shop, Image Plus Graphics, isn’t the only tie between Garcia and Jose Rolando “Roly” Arrojo, whose 2010 campaign violated federal campaign-finance disclosure rules.
Arrojo went to school and did business with Garcia’s top advisor, who was abruptly fired May 31 as the congressman’s chief of staff amid a state investigation into alleged absentee ballot-request fraud.
Arrojo, Garcia, and Garcia’s campaign have denied working in concert two years ago, but the mailers printed by the same vendor have led to new questions about the campaigns.
“I can assure you, we printed that piece and it has our permit number,” Image Plus Graphic’s president, Cliff Warren, told the Herald when shown Arrojo’s mailer.
“But I think it was done on the qt,” Warren said.
Warren said he couldn’t recall who paid for the Arrojo mailers or how many were printed two years ago, but he quickly identified Garcia campaign mailers printed by his shop over the years.
The National Republican Congressional Committee announced it's running Spanish-language ads on three Miami stations bashing Democratic Rep. Joe Garcia for the election scandal that engulfed his office (some background here).
"Voter alert. Political corruption and fraud are looking to plague our community. The Chief of Staff for Congressman Joe Garcia and his campaign manager are being investigated for carrying out an unprecedented plan to falsify hundreds of absentee ballot requests with the intention of manipulating Garcia's election. What's Garcia's reaction? He says it was a well-intentioned effort. A well-intentioned effort? Committing fraud? Garcia had the nerve to say that it's all part of how we do politics in our community. No Mr. Garcia, fraud is not acceptable in our community and it's shameful for you to say that. Call Joe Garcia today. Tell him that we are tired of the corruption and the fraud. If he can't tell us the truth, the right thing to do is resign.
"The National Republican Congressional Committee paid for and is responsible for the content of this advertising. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate's committee
Here it is in Spanish:
Even before an election scandal engulfed his campaign, Democratic U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia already had a tough re-election campaign ahead of him, according to a poll released Thursday by a Republican group.
A slight plurality of voters in the district, 42 percent, said they'd prefer someone new compared to the 37 percent of those who said Garcia deserves reelection, according to the survey of 450 district voters taken by Harper Polling for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
Though taken by a Republican-tied firm, the NRCC poll wasn't all bad news for Garcia. It indicated more people approve of the job he's doing, 38, compared to 35 percent who disapprove.
The tidbits from the NRCC poll -- released with a national memo characterizing Democratic "struggling" from Florida to California" -- was taken in late May.
So the results don't include details, first reported Friday by The Miami Herald, that Garcia's 2012 campaign is being investigated for requesting fraudulent absentee ballots during the Aug. 14 Democratic primary. Garcia has denied wrongdoing or knowledge of the alleged scheme.
The NRCC didn't share all of its results and critics are sure to question the poll's provenance and whether any survey questions gave it an anti-Democratic bias (that is, whether it message-tested). The poll does sample a few more Republicans (44%) than Democrats (38%). (Note: the last NRCC poll in this district, taken by another firm, accurately showed Garcia winning before the 2012 election).
Still, Garcia acknowledged the scandal will become a central campaign issue. And his supporters note that he's tough to beat, having raised about $550,000 in his first full quarter of fundraising as a freshman congressman.
Garcia also carried the district by about 11 percentage points in his race against a scandal-plagued Republican Rep. David Rivera. President Obama carried the district by about 7 percentage points. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans, 37-34 percent, making the Key West to Miami-Dade Congressional District 26 one of the most-competitive in the state.
But the poll indicated that 48 percent said they preferred a Republican candidate compared to 40 percent who said they preferred a Democrat
According to the poll, exactly half of the district said they'd prefer a congressman who provides a "Republican check and balance" to 43 percent who said they wanted a "Democratic ally of Obama."