A statewide investigation that discovered an alleged scheme by Republican state Senator Frank Artiles to influence a Miami-Dade County election in 2020, also revealed that a dark-money organization was used by Florida Democrats to pay for “sham candidate mailers.”
“Dark money” refers to spending by politically active nonprofits such as 501(c)(4)’s where the source of the money does not have to be disclosed.
In an attempt to make gains against a Republican-controlled Florida Senate, Josh Weierbach, the executive director of a progressive group called Florida Watch Inc., had $115,000 on hand leading up to the 2020 election that he wanted to use in support for Senate Democratic candidates, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
After heeding advice from a Democratic fundraiser, Weiererback donated the funds to the “dark-money” nonprofit known as Grow United. As stated in the Times‘ report, Weierbach gave the money to Grow United with “the understanding that it would be used to help flip one state Senate seat in Central Florida and defend one in Miami-Dade.”
Turns out, Grow United was also being used by Republicans who were dedicating approximately $500,000 to efforts aimed at hurting the candidates Weierbach was paying the dark-money organization to help.
The Artiles investigation revealed that the two candidates Weierbach wanted to support – Patricia Sigman in Senate District 9 and Javier Fernandez in Senate District 39 – were two of three key Senate races that Republicans had donated to Grow United for campaign support.
“It’s excruciatingly clear that Florida’s campaign finance system is awful,” Sigman wrote in a text message Thursday. “It needs a complete overhaul … voters really do deserve to know who’s influencing their elections,” she added.
Ironically, in a report by The Florida Capital Star in August, highlighting Sigman calling for the statewide investigation, she stated, “The body of evidence that has been revealed so far points to a coordinated, statewide, dark-money scheme to interfere with three Florida Senate races in the 2020 election cycle.”
“These dark-money schemes deceive voters and undermine the integrity of our elections. It’s important that the truth comes out for the sake of future elections, so I am glad to hear that the FDLE is taking a look.”
On top of revealing how both political parties use dark-money organizations to promote certain candidates in elections, the investigation also shows how poorly vetted Grow United and other dark-money organizations are when it comes to being transparent to donors in how their funds are being used.