Attack ads and dark money abound in Miami-Dade mayoral race

As the August 18 Miami-Dade County mayoral election draws nearer, candidates and interest groups are becoming more aggressive in their advertising tactics. While this is generally expected in any election, the involvement of secretive groups has caught the attention of many who have followed the race, including candidate Daniella Levine Cava, who has found herself on the receiving end of attack ads by an unknown group.

Levine Cava’s background & history with election transparency

Levine Cava, currently District 8 commissioner, has been the target of attack ads by a group called “True Progressives.” Her campaign has tried and failed to learn much about this group, which was established in June as an LLC, rather than a political committee. This is an important distinction, Levine-Cava noted, since a law she introduced increased political-committee regulation in county elections back in 2015.

During her 2014 commission campaign, Levine Cava was the target of attack ads by a political committee called “Good Government Now,” which was disavowed by her opponent, Lynda Bell. At the time, there was no requirement that county candidates disclose involvement with any political committees, which inspired Levine Cava to propose such a requirement upon her election.

In the future, Levine Cava hopes to change the law to eliminate this loophole. For now, though, no one is obligated to admit to any sort of involvement with True Progressives.

Little is known about True Progressives, LLC

According to the filing documents available via the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations website, the limited liability corporation was registered by F&L Corp. Its listed address matches that of the Jacksonville office of Foley & Larder, an international law firm which, according to its website, boasts over 1,100 lawyers at 24 offices across in several countries.

While Foley & Lardner partner Michael Kirwan signed the filing documents on behalf of F&L Corp, the email listed for the LLC on the same documents belongs to Foley & Lardner attorney Erika Alba, who serves as the firm’s director of public affairs. But her political involvement goes beyond her work with them.

Alba has previously served as the chair of the board of directors for Associated Industries of Florida, a Tallahassee-based lobbying group with headquarters across the street from the Governor’s mansion. AIF bills itself as “the voice for Florida business,” and it has been around for 100 years.

Prior to running for governor, current U.S. Senator Rick Scott (R) served alongside Alba on AIF’s board of directors.

Marty Fiorentino, of The Fiorentino Group — which describes itself as a “full-service government relations and business development firm” — posted about Alba’s ties to Scott shortly after the former health executive’s election as governor in 2010. At the time, Alba served as The Fiorentino Group’s managing director.

“Erika Alba in our office knew Rick Scott before he ran for governor-” Fiorentino wrote in his post– “They served on the Associated Industries of Florida board of directors together. Erika believed in Rick and his vision for Florida from day one.”

In 2017, just before then-U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis announced his intention to run for governor, Alba became chair of both of the fundraising committees that were tied to his election — Fighting for Florida’s Future, a super PAC on the national level, as well as the Fund for Florida’s Future, which operated on the state level.

In response to inquiries sent by the author to Alba regarding her involvement with True Progressives, LLC, Alba stated:

“Our firm does not comment on any client matters so I am not available to participate in an interview. Under Florida law, all entities doing business in Florida must have a registered agent. Foley serves as the registered agent for True Progressives LLC, a service we offer to many of our clients.”

Forming a Limited Liability Company in Florida:

Also mentioned in the filing documents for True Progressives, LLC is a Sean Anderson. The only other information listed for Anderson, besides his name, is an address: 12973 SW 112 st. #279, Miami, FL, 33186. Though this address is listed several times in the document — not only as True Progressives, LLC’s mailing address but also as the street address for the principal office of the LLC and as Sean Anderson’s own address — the actual location is a UPS store in Kendall.

A similar situation occurred regarding the 2018 election in state Senate District 8, according to the Gainesville Sun. “Broken Promises,” a then newly-formed corporation registered in Washington D.C., was the sole donor to a brand-new PAC called “Friends of Charles Gonson.”

Broken Promises made a $20,000 donation to Friends of Charles Gonson the same day the corporation was created by someone named Sean Anderson. As with True Progressives, LLC, this Sean Anderson’s listed address was also at a UPS store. And, though employees couldn’t say who the mailbox belonged to, they did tell the Sun it wasn’t anyone named Sean Anderson.

Is this complicated enough yet? Levine Cava notes that the Sean Anderson from Travel Traders swore in an affidavit that he had nothing to do with the LLC. that has attacked her and never worked with Foley & Lardner.

Levine Cava is more concerned with the possibility of her opponents being involved with True Progressives. A statement on her campaign website goes into detail about this concern.

“[True Progressives] is being fueled by the same special interests behind Steve Bovo and Alex Penelas‘ campaigns. It’s clear their work is to undermine Democratic voters with the so-called True Progressives LLC and spread lies and misinformation about Daniella’s proven record of leadership in the community.” Scott Arceneaux, a senior advisor to Levine Cava’s campaign, said in the statement.

Both Steve Bovo and Alex Penelas’ campaigns have denied any involvement with True Progressives, however.

Yet the former president of Kendall Democrats, Bryan Hernandez, said that, though he isn’t convinced that Penelas himself is behind True Progressives, he sees it as a possibility. “I would not be shocked if any of [Levine Cava’s] opponents were behind it,” Hernandez said, “Because it’s an election year, and they’re trying to reduce excitement among her base.”

Regardless of who’s behind it, Hernandez believes that the secrecy behind True Progressives is indicative of a deeper issue regarding corruption and campaign regulations in Miami-Dade County.

“The only way to end it is if we have serious campaign finance laws here,” he said.

Meanwhile, if none of the candidates for mayor win a majority of the vote next week, the first and second place candidates will face off during the general election in November.

True Progressives has backed off for now, which Christian Ulvert – Levine Cava’s campaign consultant – said he believes is due to disclosure requirements within 30 days of an election.

If Ulvert is correct, we may see a similar story unfold in a few months, should a run-off occur.

Katherine Flinn, a journalism major, is especially passionate about incorporating design and digital media into her work. As a journalist, she intends to focus on issues such as conservation and politics.