As the GOP continues to tout claims of election fraud by the Democrats following the 2020 election, Florida Republicans now find themselves engrossed in their own election scandal.
On March 18, former Florida Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, was arrested and charged with three third-degree felonies regarding campaign finance violations: one count of making or receiving campaign contributions over or in excess of limits, one count of conspiracy to make or receive two or more campaign contributions over or in excess of limits, and one count of false swearing in connection with voting or elections.
The charges come following Artiles allegedly hiring a “ghost candidate” in District 37’s State Senate race in November.
Ghost candidates, also referred to as “spoilers” or “sham candidates” enter a race to confuse voters and sway the outcome of the election. Frequently, they have no basis for a platform, refuse to reply to media requests for contact, and spend no effort campaigning.
Alex Rodriguez was particularly effective as a ghost candidate in the District 37 Senate race as he shared a surname with the Democratic incumbent, former Sen. José Javier Rodríguez.
Republican candidate Sen. Ileana Garcia won the District 37 Senate race in November with 104,630 votes, 48.5% of all votes cast, while Democratic incumbent Rodríguez also garnered 48.5% with 104,598 votes. Garcia’s margin of victory consisted of just 32 votes.
Independent candidate Alex Rodriguez, despite not campaigning, received 3% of the votes cast amounting to 6,382 votes.
While the act of recruiting ghost candidates itself isn’t illegal, paying someone to run as a ghost candidate is. According to the arrest affidavit, Artiles allegedly paid Rodriguez upwards of $45,000 to run in the District 37 race.
Not only did Artiles allegedly fund Rodriguez’s campaign, but the affidavit also claimed that he helped change Rodriguez’s party affiliation from Republican to Independent, filed his campaign paperwork for him, and knowingly helped Rodriguez falsify documents that implied Rodriguez lived in Palmetto Bay when he had since moved to Boca Raton — a location outside of District 37.
Neither Artiles nor Rodriguez responded to a request for comment on the allegations.
While shocking, these campaign finance charges represent a continuing trend of scandals for Artiles, even following his descent from public office.
In 2017, just a year following his election to the Florida Senate, Artiles was forced to resign in disgrace after using a racial slur and derogatory language to refer to two African American colleagues. He was also heard referring to Muslims using a slur in 2014.
Although this specific case is dependent on Artiles’s indiscretion, it is representative of a larger trend of systemic failure to uphold election integrity not only in Florida, but across our nation.
Of the 20 Florida Senate seats up for election in 2020, three races appeared to have ghost candidates on the ballot — races that were essential to the Florida GOP maintaining the Republican trifecta that has been in place since 1998. Not only does this situation highlight the inconsistent messaging from the GOP concerning election integrity, as Gov. Ron DeSantis recently affirmed his support for improving the state’s election security, but it also brings to light the issues with Florida’s campaign finance laws.
Florida, a state with some of the most transparent public records laws, is also home to some of the most bizarre campaign finance laws in the nation.
Although Rodriguez did nearly no independent campaigning of his own, political mailers were sent out in his name. According to the Miami Herald, these were paid for by an unknown donor whose address traces back to a UPS store in Atlanta.
This level of mystery concerning donor anonymity in regard to ghost candidates is not unusual. In all three Florida Senate races identified with potential ghost candidates, mailers were sent out and paid for by groups that have concealed the identities of donors.
Florida GOP officials have denied that they have any knowledge of who funded the mailers and of the alleged scheme to influence Florida Senate elections. However, Democrats remain hopeful that this investigation will turn up answers about who aided Artiles.
As for District 37, many Florida Democrats have called for Sen. Ileana Garcia’s resignation from her position. Many feel that her victory resulted from an unfair electoral process defined by too slim a margin.
There has been no indication that Garcia was aware of the alleged plot to sway the outcome of the election by Artiles.
A statement given on behalf of Garcia following a request for comment on the allegations reads as follows: “Senator Garcia had no involvement in the crimes former Senator Artiles and Mr. Rodriguez have been charged with. Senator Garcia has the full support of President Simpson as she continues to serve her constituents. President Simpson and Senator Garcia fully support the ongoing efforts of law enforcement as the investigation into this matter continues.”
Featured image: Former FL. Sen. Frank Artiles’ (R) swearing into the Florida House of Representatives in 2010. Unmodified public domain photo by the Florida House of Representatives.
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