Florida’s Dark Money Dark Horse

In America’s two-party system, the presence of third-party candidates is often met with mixed responses. Often, when a third-party candidate with a similar platform to a major-party candidate enters a race, they cause division among voters, resulting in a win for the opposition. Case in point: Ralph Nader in the 2000 presidential election, or Eliot Cutler in Maine’s 2010 and 2014 gubernatorial races.

But what if that third-party candidate didn’t even qualify to run? That’s the situation encountered by voters in Florida’s 37th Senate District last month. Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez has represented the district for the last four years, but he faced a strong challenge from Latinas for Trump co-founder Ileana Garcia.

Enter Alex Rodriguez (not the baseball player).

Alex Rodriguez is a former mechanic who, prior to 2020, had no history in politics. He did not have a campaign website, did not attend any candidate forums, and had no donations beyond a self-funded $2,000. Yet, perhaps because he shares a last name with the incumbent Rodriguez, he managed to win over 6,000 votes. Following a manual recount, Garcia was declared the winner by just 34 votes.

But this is where things get tricky. As it turns out, Alex Rodriguez doesn’t even live in Senate District 37, providing a fake address on his file to vote and run for office. When a television reporter tried to speak to him, he pretended to be someone else. As investigations continue, it appears that Alex Rodriguez was placed on the ballot purely to siphon votes from Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez.

How is this possible?

How else but our shady nemesis, dark money.

A Delaware-registered 501(c)(4) called Proclivity, Inc. donated $550,000 to two newly-formed PACs in Florida (registered simultaneously) a month before the election. These PACs invested that dough in a slew of ads for no-party candidates in three key state Senate races, including Alex Rodriguez. The ads targeted Democratic voters by describing the candidates as promoters of progressive ideals. Proclivity, for its part, does not have a listed phone number, and its mailing address is a UPS store in Atlanta. Because of its legal status as a 501(c)(4), Proclivity can keep its political activities and its donors private, leaving Florida voters in the dark.

“Florida is so loosely regulated when it comes to financing of campaigns that it’s probably legal, but it really shouldn’t be,” says Ben Wilcox, research director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Integrity Florida. “It’s a disservice to voters and it calls into question the integrity of our elections.”

We should note that while Florida election law prohibits people from running for office outside of their district, there’s no clear punishment for those who do. In any case, Florida voters, activists, and election officials must now determine how to best prevent this from happening again.