By Alex Glorioso
Center for Responsive Politics
Florida billionaire Norman Braman‘s preferred presidential candidate is out of the running. Good thing there are Senate races, too.
Braman could still get another favorite, Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Cantera, nominated as the Republican candidate to fill the Senate seat left open by former presidential hopeful Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), for whom Braman was a longtime patron. The wealthy car dealer leads the statewide finance committee for Lopez-Cantera. He’s also given $200,000 to the single-candidate super PAC backing him — almost one-quarter of its total contributions — and has maxed out his personal donations to the candidate.
Lopez-Cantera has a heap of competition, including two current House members and a couple of businessmen. But Braman’s not the only one wearing multiple hats in an effort to make sure Lopez-Cantrera has all the resources he needs for a successful campaign; four other Floridians are both part of the candidate’s finance team and are associated with major contributions to the super PAC supporting him, Reform Washington, according to a Center for Responsive Politics review of campaign finance data. Braman gave the largest amount, and did so under his own name.
The other four finance team members — Bernie Navarro, Trey Traviesa, Daniel Dosoretz and Pedro Martin — are listed as either managing members or managers of a series of nine different limited liability companies that gave significant sums to the super PAC. The LLCs’ managers founded many of the companies themselves.
In all, Braman and these LLCs have provided nearly one-third of Reform Washington’s total haul through the end of February: $306,000.
While Braman isn’t breaking any laws, it remains unclear whether the other finance members are the sole owners of the LLCs they manage and how they report the companies’ income on their taxes. That’s significant, because so-called “straw donations” of the sort OpenSecrets Blog reported on last week aren’t allowed under campaign finance law.
Coziness between campaigns and super PACs can cross the line into illegal coordination if they discuss strategy; despite the financiers’ double-barreled efforts for Lopez-Cantera’s campaign and Reform Washington, there’s no evidence that’s the case here.
While super PACs — creatures of the 2010 Citizens United Supreme Court decision and subsequent legal developments — must disclose their donors, the groups are relying to an increasing degree on contributions from LLCs, which often mask the true sources of the funds. “Citizens United opened the door both legally and psychologically to corporations coming into elections, but the idea was that it had to be disclosed,” said Larry Noble, a campaign finance expert at the Campaign Legal Center in Washington. “Now, individuals are hiding behind LLCs.”
Reform Washington’s donors include 27 LLCs in all, which have given $161,500 of the group’s $923,642 in receipts.
The men, the money
Braman was chosen to lead Lopez-Cantera’s finance team in part because he is such a big donor and has vast fundraising networks in Florida, according to a campaign official. True enough: For one thing, he gave a whopping $7 million to Conservative Solutions PAC, making him the top donor to the super PAC that backed Rubio. One week after Lopez-Cantera announced his bid, on July 23, 2015, Braman and his wife, Irma, maxed out their personal donations to the candidate’s campaign, giving $10,800. He made his first $100,000 donation to the super PAC on May 15, 2015, two months before Lopez-Cantera announced his Senate bid.
Two other finance committee members associated with LLCs that gave to Reform Washington — Tallahassee lobbyist and fundraiser for Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney Trey Traviesa and Ft. Myers oncologist Daniel Dosoretz — also maxed out their personal donations to the lieutenant governor.
Traviesa is a founder and principal of V3 Partners, an investment management firm in Florida, which gave $25,000 to Reform Washington. TEM LLC, for which Dosoretz is listed as the manager in Florida corporate records, gave $45,000 to the super PAC. Dosoretz’s wife, Celia, maxed out her personal contribution as well, giving $5,400 to the campaign on Nov. 30.
None of the men behind the nine LLCs is a stranger to money in politics, though none has played at Braman’s level. Since 2012, Navarro has contributed over $20,300 to a variety of Republican candidates and PACs, Center for Responsive Politics data show. In the last three years, he’s given $9,000 to Rubio’s Senate leadership PAC, Reclaim America.
Since 2005, Traviesa has given $133,858, all to Republicans. In 2012, he contributed more than $30,000 to the Republican National Committee and last year he gave $10,000 to the Republican Party of Florida. He’s also given to former presidential candidate Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign ($5,400 in 2015), $5,000 to Rubio’s leadership PAC in 2012 and $1,000 in 2014 to Rep. David Jolly, one of Lopez-Cantera’s current rivals for the GOP nomination.
Dosoretz has given over $250,000 since 1992. CRP records show that he’s not historically loyal to Democrats or Republicans, regularly giving to candidates committees and PACs from both parties.
The Florida Republican Senate primary isn’t until August 30th and the race is currently a crowded free for all. Running against Lopez-Cantera are businessmen Todd Wilcox and Carlos Beruff and Reps. Ron DeSantis and Jolly. So far, Wilcox and Jolly have raised over $1 million, but DeSantis has raised the most money by far, bringing in nearly $3 million by last December.
OpenSecrets Blog received no response to requests for comment from Braman and the other finance committee members as well as Reform Washington.