As former Sen. Frank Artiles faces multiple felony charges related to recruiting and paying an alleged spoiler candidate to run in a South Florida Senate race, another Central Florida race shows striking similarities.
Artiles is not currently under investigation for the Senate District 9 race and the NPA candidate in that race is also not currently under investigation, but new details reported by the Orlando Sentinel show remarkable overlaps in the situations.
In SD 9, former Rep. and now Sen. Jason Brodeur faced Democrat Patricia Sigman and NPA candidate Jestine Iannotti. Like the South Florida race for which Artiles faces charges, in Senate District 37, Iannotti did not campaign for the race. She raised just $700 from four donors.
One of them, Todd Karvoski, now says he didn’t donate any money and didn’t know who the candidate was, according to the Sentinel.
SD 9, also like SD 37, saw a flood of dark money boosting the NPA candidate. An Atlanta-based group called Proclivity sent $550,000 to two political committees that mailed ads to voters in three Senate districts, including SD 9 and SD 37. The ads all promoted non-competitive NPA candidates and appeared to paint them as a liberal option with pro-Democrat claims the candidates would do things like guarantee a living wage, fight climate change and hold police accountable.
Democrats are asking U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland to investigate the source of dark money. Other than information stemming from SD 37 investigations, Artiles is not yet tied to spoiler candidates in the other two targeted Senate races.
While the SD 37 race is the most egregious — Democrat José Javier Rodríguez lost to Republican Ileana Garcia by just 32 votes while the NPA spoiler, Alex Rodriguez collected more than 6,000 votes — SD 9 also saw Ianotti claim a not insignificant number of votes. Ianotti garnered 5,787 votes in a race Brodeur won by 7,644 votes.
And Artiles is already now suspected of having his prints on a second South Florida Senate race after the Miami Herald reported Thursday he had documents on another spoiler candidate in SD 39, though he has not been charged in that race.
But the Central Florida race raises questions, if not about Artiles than at least about a 2020 election cycle trend. Both Iannotti and Rodrigues avoided speaking to the press during their non-existent campaigns.
And, according to the Sentinel, some of the mailers promoting Iannotti were almost identical to those pushing for the NPA Rodriguez. The committees that paid for both mailers were printed from the same Clermont print shop on the same day.
And both NPA candidates were reportedly struggling financially. The Sentinel reported Iannotti owes $173,100 in student loans and reported just $2,344 in income in 2019, from work as a substitute teacher. Artiles reportedly offered Rodriguez, who was having “dire financial difficulties,” $50,000 for running in SD 37.
In SD 9, there are also questions about two other of the four contributors to Iannotti’s campaign. Eric Foglesong, who donated $300, contributed $1,000 to Brodeur in 2019, though the money was later returned. He was also arrested and charged with stealing $20,000 from a PAC affiliated with Orange County Sheriff John Mina, charges for which he pleaded guilty.
Steven Smith donated $200. The Orlando Sentinel wrote that they were unable to reach him, but a woman who answered the door at his apartment and identified herself as his mother said she doubted he donated because “he has always had limited funds.”
Fudging donations on official campaign finance reports is a crime.