“In thirteen years with the Bureau, I've discovered that there's no amount of money, manpower or knowledge that can equal the person you're looking for being stupid” fictional FBI agent Michael Casper tells the president in the West Wing. “Some of the stupidest criminals in the world are working right here in America,” Martin Sheen’s President Bartlet retorts. “I’ve always been very proud of that.”
Some might say the same goes for politicians although we at the West Central Alliance take a more favorable view of our elected officials with the recognition that there are a few that give the many other good men and women who service in public office a bad name.
Earlier this week, a former Florida state senator lived up to the quote from both a political and criminal context when he was arrested Thursday and charged with third degree felonies of campaign finance violations involving the use of dark money.
Law enforcement raided the Miami residence of former State Senator Frank Artiles, who resigned after an alcohol-induced altercation with fellow state senator colleagues in which he used a racial epithet several times among other abhorrent behaviors, after the former elected official was bragging about his criminal involvement in using dark money to fund a shill candidacy that swung a Miami-Dade area state senate race by 32 votes in 2020.
Artiles was subsequently arrested as was the candidate he bragged about funding named Alex Rodriguez.
This story is outside of the parameters of the West Central Alliance because it involved dark money in campaigns at the state level rather than at the city or county level, but as with the story involving corruption in the Ohio State House discussed in Tuesday’s column, this story is too important not to talk about.
The details are still being uncovered and yet each new piece of information makes the situation somehow stranger. Here’s a brief overview of what happened.
Challenger Ileana Garcia was able to defeat incumbent state senator Jose Javier Rodriguez by just 32 votes with over 6,000 votes going to Alex Rodriguez, a NPA candidate who shared the same last name as the incumbent, who may have siphoned votes from the incumbent. There is no evidence Garcia, the winner, had any connection with the shill.
According to Local 10 News in Miami, Alex Rodriguez was deeply in debt who lived two counties away from the district. He had no political aspirations, and according to the warrant, investigators say Artiles offered to pay him $50,000 - half during and half after the election - for him to file to run for the District 37 state senate seat.
Rodriguez’s lawyer released a statement saying Artiles “targeted” him as “vulnerable [...] with a great name to run in the race in order to confuse voters and steal the election.”
“Masterminding a sham candidate is not illegal,” Local 10 reports, “but financing one is.” Artiles had paid Rodriguez $44,708.03 according to receipts to change his party affiliation and qualify as an independent candidate.
The details of the committee funding this effort are even shadier than the tactics used to put Rodriguez on the ballot. The committee had initially only one donor that it filed an amended report to completely change this donor’s name. The full details of following the money trail will be included in another post.
For now the former state senator, who had also used his own political committee when elected to pay a former Hooters calendar girl and a Playboy model with no political experience as “consultants,” has been charged with three serious crimes: 1 count of false swearing in connection with voting or elections (3rd degree felony), 1 count making or receiving two or more campaign contributions in excess of the limits (3rd degree felony), 1 count of conspiracy to make or receive two or more campaign contributions in excess of the limits (3rd degree felony).
We will continue to write about this story as more details develop but this is one of the few cases in dark money involvement that leads to criminal charges. Dark money, created by committee-to-committee expenditures hiding the source of original donors, has been common at the state level for decades but escalated in the wake of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision in 2010.
We are now also seeing dark money used at the county and city levels of government, which led to the founding of this issue-based advocacy group against it known as the West Central Alliance.