Internal jostling for leadership of Florida’s Republican Party has shaken loose a revelation bolstering allegations the GOP regularly runs third-party candidates funded by “dark money” shadow groups to win elections.
In an email sent Tuesday to all Florida GOP committee members, former state representative and current Lee County Property Appraiser Matt Caldwell ripped the party’s leadership for failing to support incumbents and for placing elected state officials – including current chairperson Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota – in charge.
Caldwell, defeated by Democrat Nikki Fried in the 2018 state agriculture commissioner election by 6,753 votes, blamed his loss on the state party’s neglect.
“The most glaring difference in the loss for Ag. Commissioner was the lack of any 3rd party candidate” in his race against Fried as, he implied, the state party did for candidates in four other statewide races, including Gov. Ron DeSantis’ half-percent victory over Democrat Andrew Gillum.
In fact, he added, “Many of our victories can be attributed to 3rd Party candidates dividing the vote.”
While recruiting third-party or no party affiliation (NPA) candidates is not new and, under Florida’s campaign financing rules, not necessarily illegal, the Miami-Dade State Attorney Office is investigating at least one NPA candidate’s 2020 campaign and Democrats are demanding lawmakers reassess state campaign regulations.
The most notable example comes from Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 37 race, where NPA candidate Alex Rodriguez received 6,300 votes out of 215,000 ballots cast in an election won by 32 votes by Sen. Ileana Garcia, who unseated incumbent Democrat José Javier Rodríguez.