Campaign finance complaint against Rhonda Rebman Lopez deemed ‘legally insufficient’

The complaint was based on 'hearsay,' according to the ruling.

The Florida Election Commission ruled against the Miami-Dade Democratic Party after it alleged former GOP candidate Rhonda Rebman Lopez may have broken campaign finance laws during the 2020 election cycle.

Finding the complaint was based on “hearsay” and “speculation,” the Commission late last month ruled in favor of Lopez and against Miami-Dade Democratic Party Chair Steve Simeonidis, who filed the complaint.

The complaint stemmed from a $1,000 donation from a David Rivera-linked consulting firm made to Lopez during her run for House District 120. That firm, Interamerican Consulting, came under fire after The New York Times reported on a $50M consulting contract between Interamerican and Venezuela’s state-run oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). PDVSA was controlled by Nicolás Maduro at the time.

That arrangement with the socialist regime was politically toxic in South Florida, prompting at least one other right-leaning politician to return a donation from the firm. But Lopez told Florida Politics she would keep the donation.

“[Rivera’s] sister Diana, who’s a school teacher and Democrat, gave me that check,” Lopez said. “My mother was a public school teacher for over 40 years. Why would I reject a contribution from a school teacher?”

That statement served as the basis for Simeonidis’ complaint. Rivera’s sister also serves as an officer with Interamerican. But Simeonidis argued Lopez’s statement implied that either Rivera’s sister was the true source of the donation or that she was simply serving as a pass-through for money from the Venezuelan government.

“This statement, if true, is in contrast to the fact that the $1,000 campaign contribution in question was issued in the name of Interamerican Consulting, Inc.,” Simeonidis wrote regarding the Lopez quote.

“Thus, an inference is raised that the true source of the funds was PDVSA, a foreign entity. If true, this would violate not only Fla. Stat. 106.08(5)(a)’s requirement that ‘[a] person may not make any contribution through or in the name of another, directly or indirectly, in any election,’ but also federal campaign finance laws.”

The Florida Election Commission rejected the argument.

“Complainant did not provide evidence based upon personal information or information other than hearsay to support his allegation that the contribution did not come from Interamerican as reported by Respondent,” the Commission wrote, again noting that Rivera’s sister served as an officer of the firm.

“The quote attributed to Respondent in the article is hearsay. Regardless, the quotation is open to interpretation and does not state unequivocally that the $1,000 at issue was a personal contribution from an individual.”

As to Rivera’s sister serving as a pass-through for Venezuelan money, the Commission rubbished that assertion as well.

“The allegation is based upon news articles and a complaint filed in federal court; therefore, it is based upon hearsay, and the ‘inference’ appears to be speculation,” the Commission continued.

“Moreover, any allegations against Interamerican for breach of federal campaign finance laws would fall under the jurisdiction of the Federal Election Commission.”

Because of those findings, the complaint was deemed “legally insufficient.”

The donation from Interamerican was a source of controversy during the 2020 Republican primary in HD 120, even independent of the Miami-Dade Democrats’ complaint. Republican candidate Alexandria Suarez argued Lopez should drop out of the race after Lopez confirmed she would keep the cash.

“The Florida Legislature is no place for candidate Lopez, who has endorsed and joined forces with those working for Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime and whose actions are clearly against the security interests of the United States as well as the citizens of Florida,” Suarez said.

That prompted a fiery response from Lopez directed at Suarez.

“If she ever actually qualifies as a candidate, then I’m sure the voters will reject her ambulance-chasing history as a personal injury attorney. Until then, I’ll stay focused on issues that actually matter to voters, like jobs and quality of life issues,” Lopez said.

Ultimately, both candidates lost to Islamorada Council member  Jim Mooney, who went on to win the seat in the General Election. Mooney only squeaked by Lopez by about 1 percentage point in the GOP primary, however.

After the election, Lopez took on a role as the finance/budgetary chair of the Monroe County Republican Party.

Ryan Nicol

Ryan Nicol covers news out of South Florida for Florida Politics. Ryan is a native Floridian who attended undergrad at Nova Southeastern University before moving on to law school at Florida State. After graduating with a law degree he moved into the news industry, working in TV News as a writer and producer, along with some freelance writing work. If you'd like to contact him, send an email to [email protected].


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