Key Biscayne’s municipal elections this year continue to shatter financial records, with more than $186,000 being collected by candidates, supporters, and political committees. It’s a number that dwarfs financing in prior election cycles, reflecting the hotly contested mayoral race and debates over two amendments proposed to the Village Charter.
With about 8,100 registered voters in Key Biscayne, funds equate to around $23 per voter — and there are 20 days to go.
The heaviest activity has been in the mayor’s race, where former Mayor Joe Rasco has raised $78,975 through last week. His opponent, Fausto Gomez, listed income of $35,639, adding $10,000 in loans to the amount he previously donated to himself, according to financial filings.
“You’ve got two people that are big money, engaged political players,” said Fernand Amandi, a prominent pollster. “Is it shocking that big money is following them?” He said it’s a part of a trend of big spending in municipal races across Miami and said Key Biscayne is no different. “As people understand how important government is, you’re going to see stakeholders vested in the outcome put resources into getting control of that government.”
Rasco seemed to be conserving funds for a possible blitz later, listing less than $300 in expenditures in the last reporting period, spending $49,645 through last week. His biggest spend — about $29,000 — has gone to the Diaz Consulting Group.
Gomez, who reported spending $33,324, paid more than $7,700 to Dark Horse Strategies, another Miami political consulting firm, whose motto reads “When others say it can’t be done, we get it done!”
Compared to spending for the mayor’s race, the five men running for three seats on the Village Council have been doing so on shoestrings, with total spending under $10,000. Oscar Sardiñas led with about $4,300 in contributions, with Nicholas Lopez-Jenkins at $2,200. Three candidates have been self-funding: Fernando Vazquez reported $1,144, Ed London self-funded to the tune of $1,000, and Andy Herrera loaned himself $500.
But those sums are just for the candidates. Political committees have collected at least another $63,000. There are five committees active in island races, two that registered locally and three that registered in Tallahassee. There is a sixth organization, Miami-Dade County Citizens Defending Freedom USA, that sent material to voters with an election disclaimer, but it has not filed disclosure reports, according to Village Clerk Jocelyn Koch.
Key Biscayners for Ethical and Experienced Government, the first locally-formed PC, raised $8,275, spending $3,123 mostly on newspaper ads. The group’s leaders overlap with prominent Rasco supporters Mario Garcia-Serra and Jennifer Stearns Buttrick. The two served on the Strategic Vision Board and the Charter Revision Commission, respectively.
A new committee, Key Biscayne Lightkeepers, reported raising $10,200, but has not listed any expenditures. Filing documents show it was founded by Louisa Conway, a Gomez supporter, and Armando Chapelli, a member of the Miami-Dade County Republican Executive Committee. Both were unsuccessful village council candidates in 2020. (A representative said the Republican Party has “not taken a position” on Key Biscayne’s ballot questions).
Funding sources for three other committees remain difficult to trace because their funding comes from other committees, a practice known as “dark money.”
State records show that one of them, Key Biscayne Residents for Quality of Life, which is supporting Gomez, was fined $150 this month for a late report. The largest donation of $5,000 came from another political committee, Mark PC, which is run by Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron. But the Mark PC committee has hundreds of donors, including a number of law firms, the Miami Dolphins, and the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Mark PC committee also gave $12,000 to Coastal Beaches Matter, another PC that purchased ads supporting Gomez.
Floridians for Truth Now, a committee which sent ads attacking Gomez, reported no new contributions but did list $4,322 in mail and consulting expenses.
Amandi, the pollster, said he was not surprised to see dark money contributions expand into Key Biscayne given the trend in Miami-Dade County and statewide. He said that although voters often say they’re turned off by negative ads, he believes they will continue as long as they can shift races, even slightly.
“Who’s to say what the price of victory is?” he said, noting that moving a few hundred votes might be deemed “worth it” for some political actors.
“You’re going to see dark money in student council races, the way things are headed,” Amandi said.
Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.