Full Democratic congressional delegation asks DOJ to probe sham candidates following Frank Artiles arrest

Delegation members say they want a broader investigation into the money behind third-party candidates.

All 11 Democratic members of Florida’s congressional delegation have signed onto a letter calling for a federal investigation into the funding of third-party spoiler candidates in the state.

The letter to U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland comes after former GOP Sen. Frank Artiles was arrested last week. Artiles is being charged by the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s office, as prosecutors allege he broke campaign finance law to prop up a sham candidate in last November’s razor-thin Senate District 37 contest.

Now, congressional Democrats are joining the push to expand that investigation to the federal level, and they want other third-party candidacies probed as well.

U.S. Reps. Kathy Castor, Charlie Crist, Val DemingsTed DeutchLois Frankel, Alcee Hastings, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Frederica Wilson have all signed a letter to Garland laying out their request.

“Several news outlets have reported that in at least three Florida Senate races, sham candidates were planted by political operatives and funded by dark money groups in order to sway the electoral outcome,” the lawmakers write, referring to the 2020 contests in Senate Districts 9, 37 and 39.

“In one of those races, for state Senate District 37, there have already been arrests made for state campaign finance crimes related to one part of an organized scheme designed to confuse voters and benefit Republican candidates. Unfortunately, it appears a wider probe has not been launched beyond this one race.”

The delegation members are hypothesizing that Artiles’ arrest and SD 37 third-party candidate Alex Rodriguez may just be the tip of the iceberg. They go on to say that a larger funding network may be at play, and that federal investigators should get involved.

“There are important unanswered questions regarding the original source of the money to fund this scheme, and whether the entity that provided the funding was in violation of any federal campaign finance laws or Internal Revenue Service codes,” the letter continues.

“It is also a pressing public concern as to whether any fraud occurred in furtherance of a federal criminal conspiracy designed to influence the outcome of one or more elections. We strongly encourage your office and others in the federal law enforcement community to probe further into the source operations of this scheme to identify potential federal criminal violations. Unlike the dangerous, baseless claims of voter fraud impacting the 2020 Election, in this case, evidence actually exists that a multi-state fraud conspiracy was committed against Florida’s voters.”

Last week, Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny A. Diaz pitched a similar proposal. On Wednesday, former U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala also asked the feds to get involved in the Artiles probe.

The SD 37 race saw then-Republican candidate Ileana Garcia defeat then-Democratic state Sen. José Javier Rodríguez by only 32 votes out of the nearly 216,000 votes counted. Alex Rodriguez, the non-party affiliated candidate, garnered nearly 6,400 votes in that contest. Former Sen. Rodríguez shares a last name with the alleged spoiler candidate, adding to the confusion for voters.

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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