A Democratic committee is bashing Republican U.S. Rep. Maria Elvira Salazar for again shirking Federal Elections Commission rules on campaign contributions, including collecting an over-the-limit gift from a Colombian lawyer tied to socialist Venezuela President Nicolás Maduro.
The Federal Elections Commission flagged Salazar’s political committee, Salazar for Congress, for accepting more than $147,000 in excessive campaign donations.
Among the illegally excessive contributions: $5,700 from Colombian lawyer and permanent U.S. resident Abelardo de la Espriella, who until 2019 represented Colombian businessman Alex Saab, the subject of a money-laundering investigation into crooked deals with the Venezuelan government. Ana Lucia Pineda, De la Espriella’s wife, gave another $5,700.
Reporter Francisco Alvarado first reported on the issue Thursday for Florida Bulldog.
The FEC caps individual donations per election at $2,900, but the agency counts Primary and General races as separate elections, meaning individuals can give up to $5,800 for both in any single two-year election cycle. However, Salazar’s campaign accepted the donations in question for her Primary only.
The violations caught the attention of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, which did not pass up the opportunity to lob harsh criticism the Congresswoman’s way.
“Maria Elvira Salazar will do whatever it takes to stay in Congress, including taking thousands of dollars from a former attorney for Alex Saab, a ‘financier’ and ‘front man’ for Venezuelan Dictator Nicolás Maduro,” the DCCC said in a statement Thursday. “While Salazar shamelessly exploits the struggles of democracy-seekers in Latin America, she is willing to take thousands from anyone that can help her stay in power.”
In July 2019, the U.S. Treasury sanctioned and indicted Saab for bribing Maduro’s three stepsons, who funneled money in exchange for access to their stepfather’s regime and government contracts, including Venezuela’s food subsidy program.
Treasury officials described Saab as “a profiteer orchestrating a vast corruption network” who “exploited no-bid contracts to loot hundreds of millions of dollars from starving Venezuelans.”
De la Espriella had served as Saab’s attorney for several years until his indictment. He has admitted in court to helping Saab avoid capture in 2018 by enlisting the aid of a dishonest cop who informed him of the pending arrest.
De La Espriella later told a Colombian disciplinary court he had ordered a recording of the police officer informing his office of the plan to arrest Saab, explaining he’d done so and subsequently turned the recording over to authorities — after Saab got away — to insulate himself from criminal culpability.
Salazar, a former TV journalist who rode a pro-Donald Trump, anti-socialist platform to narrowly beat Democratic incumbent Donna Shalala for Florida’s 27th Congressional District in November, has committed to returning “anything in excess of what the law allows.”
She told Alvardo she appreciated the support from De la Espriella, whom she described as “a prominent Colombian attorney who lives in my district,” adding, “I know him. I know his clients.”
FEC records show that Salazar for Congress has refunded a total of $8,145 in contributions so far, divided between three donors. Among them: Roy Hinman, a St. Augustine doctor who served on Gov. Ron DeSantis’ health and wellness transition team and cast a vote for Trump in December as a member of the Electoral College.
As Florida Politics reported in July, Salazar also drew FEC warnings in late June that her campaign had accepted donations in excess of federal limits.
Also in July, the FEC dismissed a complaint that Salazar’s political committee had not properly disclosed necessary information for 91 donors whose collected contributions totaled $283,200.
Salazar’s deputy chief of staff, Hayed Kure, told Florida Politics on Friday those responsible for the fundraising issues had been fired.
“As soon as we noticed errors were made, the personnel (were) immediately replaced,” she said by email. “The FEC already dismissed political attacks such as these last year. Any issues have been rectified.”
Kure then directed any further questions to Salazar’s campaign lawyer, Jason Torchinsky.
Salazar, the daughter of Cuban exiles, was one of several prominent Republicans from Miami-Dade in July and August to join House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy and others in demanding action from President Joe Biden’s administration following historic human rights protests on the island.
Echoing the sentiments of many stateside protesters, Salazar called socialist Cuba President Miguel Díaz-Canel’s regime “satánica,” or “satanic.”
“May the lord help President Biden to understand, because if you do not (deliver help to Cuba), we will do it from Miami and from the state of Florida,” she said at an Aug. 5 press conference with DeSantis.
Salazar’s outrage is clearly selective, DCCC spokesperson Abel Iraola said.
“Maria Elvira Salazar having a Maduro-connected lawyer fund her campaign is about as shamelessly hypocritical as it gets, and a slap in the face to those fighting for democracy in Venezuela,” he said. “That she decided to stand up for a Maduro guy’s lawyer instead of returning the money says everything about what she truly values and where her principles lie.”
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