National Democratic and Republican organizations are releasing dueling ads in the race for Florida’s 26th Congressional District, accusing each candidate of dealing in corruption.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) released an ad Tuesday targeting Republican candidate Carlos Giménez. Giménez is the current Miami-Dade County Mayor. He’s seeking to unseat Democratic Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell in CD 26.
The DCCC ad largely runs allegations from a Mucarsel-Powell campaign ad that ran last month. That ad was eventually updated due to misstatements within it, at least one of which the new DCCC spot repeats.
“For ‘Corrupt Carlos’ Giménez, taking care of the family means shady deals and government contracts,” the ad’s narrator begins.
“While he was Mayor, ‘Corrupt Carlos” administration gave millions to businesses with ties to his family. His family even managed the company that built the fatal FIU bridge. And after the accident, ‘Corrupt Carlos’ tried to push a new multi-million-dollar construction contract to their firm. Getting rich at our expense: For ‘Corrupt Carlos’ Giménez, it’s a family affair.”
The “new multi-million-dollar construction contract” referenced in the ad wasn’t technically a new contract. Rather, the Mayor later pushed to extend an existing contract with Munilla Construction Management (MCM), one of the firms behind the FIU bridge.
That project was extended to complete already existing work at Miami International Airport. The extension was separately approved by the Miami-Dade County Commission.
Pedro Munilla is a partner at MCM. Munilla is the cousin of the Mayor’s wife, Lourdes. Both of the Mayor’s sons — C.J. and Julio — have previously worked with the firm. C.J. did lobbying work for MCM, while Julio worked as a construction executive.
“’Corrupt Carlos’ Giménez and his lobbyist sons have spent years working together to sell out South Florida so the Giménez family and their clients can profit,” DCCC Spokesperson Sarah Guggenheimer added in a statement.
“Now ‘Corrupt Carlos’ is running for Congress to take his corrupt scheme national. After his family managed the building of the fatal FIU bridge, South Florida experienced firsthand the dangers of ‘Corrupt Carlos’ and his lobbyist sons — and they’re ready to reject his brand of corrupt leadership at the ballot box.”
Nikki Rapanos, a Giménez campaign spokesperson, fired back at that framing, referencing Mucarsel-Powell’s previous ad, which was taken down and replaced.
“DMP is one of the most partisan Members of Congress and it’s no surprise that she continues to spread misleading false attacks,” Rapanos said, “lies that have already been proven false and taken off the air. She can try to hide from her record of corruption, ineffectiveness and toxic partisanship but the voters of FL26 see right through it.”
As to the incumbent’s partisanship, Mucarsel-Powell has voted with President Donald Trump less than 5% of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight data. However, in a district which Trump lost by 16 points, that’s right around what would be expected, according to the site’s analysis.
On Tuesday, the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) lobbed corruption allegations at Mucarsel-Powell surrounding the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
That program was designed to help small businesses — those with fewer than 500 employees — retain workers following the economic shutdown prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. That program earned bipartisan support, including from Mucarsel-Powell.
Fiesta Restaurant Group, a publicly traded company valued at $189 million, received $15 million in PPP loans. Mucarsel-Powell’s husband, Robert, works as a vice president in the legal department for Fiesta.
“Clouds of suspicion growing darker, moving over Debbie Mucarsel-Powell,” the narrator begins in the NRCC ad.
“Grab an umbrella because when it rains, it pours for Debbie and her husband. She pushed taxpayer-funded loans meant for small business. But somehow, the Wall Street-traded company where her husband’s an executive snagged two loans worth $15 million, showered in cash through the program Debbie backed. Sunlight dries the truth out. She’s out for herself.”
The legislation that set up the loan program permits companies with no more than 500 employees per location to apply for a loan. Fiesta is the parent company of Pollo Tropical, which has several locations throughout the state. While it employed more than 10,000 workers as of the end of 2019, that provision applying per location allowed the company to benefit from the program.
After reporting uncovered the loan, the company agreed to return the money. There was also no evidence Mucarsel-Powell or her husband pushed Fiesta to originally acquire the loan. Other restaurant companies with multiple Florida locations — such as J. Alexander’s and Potbelly — received loans of $10 million and upward as well. Ruth’s Chris Steak House, which is headquartered in Winter Park, received $20 million in loans.
Still, NRCC Spokeswoman Camille Gallo argued the episode reflected badly on the incumbent.
“Debbie Mucarsel-Powell isn’t looking out for Floridians in Congress,” Gallo said. “She’s only looking out for herself.”
That prompted pushback from Guggenheimer, the DCCC spokesperson, as the dueling groups continued to trade barbs Tuesday.
“Congresswoman Mucarsel-Powell has been a stalwart defender of small businesses during COVID-19,” Guggenheimer said.
“She voted to give them relief, ensure transparency in the process, and put money in their pockets. Republicans’ distortions of the facts are nothing but a blatantly transparent effort to disguise ‘Corrupt Carlos’ Giménez’ career-long record of profiting from his office and helping out his lobbyist sons.”
The CD 26 contest is expected to garner a lot of attention. Mucarsel-Powell has called her 2020 reelection bid “one of the toughest” congressional contests in the country. Election forecasters currently see the race as a toss-up. Mucarsel-Powell won the seat in 2018 by 2 percentage points, ousting a Republican incumbent. The district covers parts of Miami-Dade and Monroe counties.