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Miami Beach mayor takes lead in effort to end lobbyist, vendor donations in Miami-Dade County


Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine is helping lead a campaign against vendor donations in Miami-Dade County races, with hopes of putting the proposed changes on the November ballot. 

Levine, who helped solicit big-ticket donations to a city political committee raising money from Miami Beach vendors and developers last year, will head up one of the groups trying to win approval for the new county law, according to a press release issued Monday. The law would impose some of the rules that already govern Miami Beach elections -- specifically, it would ban large county contractors from donating to campaigns in county races.

Campaign cash from Miami-Dade vendors, developers and lobbyists are a staple of county races, and incumbents personally solicit big checks from those seeking their votes. The proposed legislation also would drop the maximum campaign donation from $1,000 to $250 per individual or entity. 

The law would apply to any entity or individual with a Miami-Dade contract worth at least $250,00 a year, as well as lobbyists for the contractors. The county law would have no effect on donations to political action committees or other groups that currently have no limits on the amount of cash they can receive.

Organizers of Accountable Miami-Dade, the group that issued the release, are pursuing a petition drive to get the initiative on the November ballot. A preliminary public hearing on the proposal is slated for Tuesday's County Commission meeting, and commissioners eventually could opt to adopt the proposal as an ordinance instead of letting it go to voters.

Christian Ulvert, a campaign consultant working for Levine, is listed in the petition documents as the main organizer for the effort. The push comes as Levine is widely seen as eyeing a 2018 run for Florida governor.

Levine is heading an advisory board for the petition drive, with a union leader and a former Republican city official will head up the campaign itself. Monica Russo, president of Service Employees International Union’s Florida Council, and Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera, a Republican and the former vice-mayor of Doral, are co-chairing Accountable Miami-Dade, the political committee formed to fund the drive, according to the release. (In filing documents, Russo alone is listed as “chairwoman” of the committee.)

Levine was caught up in a high-profile controversy involving campaign finance when he help raise more than $1 million for a PAC called Relentless for Progress. The large sum raised in just 90 days, and donations from city vendors for a committee whose initials spelled out RFP, quickly became an embarrassment for Levine. The chairman of the group, then-city commissioner Jonah Wolfson, disbanded the committee and returned the donations and Levine called the committee a “bone-headed” move.

As the controversy raged, Levine often noted that while Miami Beach law banned vendors from making direct campaign donations to city officials, such gifts were common and legal at the county level.