Group of Miami-Dade Democrats allege Chair bungled elections, mismanaged funds
Image via AP.

AP Election Miami-Dade
Democrats suffered heavy losses in Miami-Dade this past election. Ten members of the county party blame its leader.

In the aftermath of a 2022 midterm walloping that saw Republicans gain major ground in Miami-Dade County for the first time in decades, a group of Democrats are calling for an audit of the organization’s finances and the resignation of the local party Chair, Robert Dempster, accusing him of mismanagement and potentially criminal campaign finance practices.

Ten current and former high-ranking members of the party penned a letter to Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Diaz complaining about Dempster, who has led the Miami-Dade arm of the party since August 2021.

Under his control, they wrote, experienced members of the Democratic Executive Committee (DEC) have been “shut out” of important decisions while the party has “not won a single race.”

The group also highlighted several instances of questionable financial activity by the party that could qualify as felony offenses, including one still unaddressed from the 2021 election.

They demanded a “full and independent audit” of the group, the first since 2019, by Jan. 20, when the Florida Democratic Party is to meet and choose its leadership for the 2024 election cycle.

Dempster, a former North Miami Beach candidate for Mayor who has served in several volunteer roles with the DEC over the years, maintained an audit is already underway. He said the organization is working to correct any bookkeeping errors.

“There has been no wrongdoing on the part of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party and the signatories of this letter (10 of 257 members) are well aware of that,” he told Florida Politics by text.

The letter’s authors disagree. At the very least, Dempster provided “less-than-optimal leadership” during the last election cycle, according to former state Rep. Robert Asencio, who mounted an unsuccessful bid to unseat Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Giménez last year.

“When I launched my campaign for Congress, I felt a lack of candidate support, a lack of interest in getting involved and helping those of us seeking partisan seats,” he said.

“(Miami-Dade is) the most expensive market with the most complexities, and candidates are putting their lives on hold, spending their own money and asking others for donations to run their campaigns. The fact we don’t have an Executive Committee that’s functioning optimally is just unacceptable.”

It also has the party more disadvantaged than it’s been in 20 years, said Ricky Junquera, who served as acting DEC Chair during the 2018 election, when the party picked up seats in Congress, Tallahassee and at the county level with candidates like Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Donna Shalala, Javier Fernandez and Eileen Higgins.

He named several races anticipated as shoo-ins for Miami-Dade Democrats that instead went to GOP challengers. There was A.J. D’Amico’s failed run at former Democratic Rep. Nick Duran’s seat and Jordan Leonard’s upset loss to Republican former reality TV star Fabían Basabe, whose limited outside funding and history of racist and misogynistic behavior had many considering him a longshot.

Then there was the race against Ileana Garcia, considered in the leadup to the election as the most vulnerable Republican in the Senate. Former state Rep. Michael Grieco ended his campaign against her early amid complaints of finance woes and inadequate party support, leaving an underfunded, late replacement with little runway to compete.

“These are seats that, in a traditional General Election with the apparatus humming on all sides, we don’t lose,” Junquera said.

Robert Dempster has led the Miami-Dade Democratic Executive Committee, the governing body of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party, since August 2021. Image via Miami-Dade Democratic Party.

The letter listed three examples of alleged campaign fundraising impropriety by the Miami-Dade Democratic Party under Dempster’s chairmanship. The first includes more than $61,000 in contributions and $107,000 in expenditures in the party’s fourth-quarter campaign report from 2021 still listed as needing “to be amended.”

In another alleged violation, the DEC listed no expenses in the second quarter of 2022, an omission that “appears to be … a clear violation of campaign reporting standards” under Florida law, which says incorrectly, falsely or incompletely certifying campaign finance reports is a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison.

A third alleged violation stems from a contribution to Quinn Smith, who placed second Nov. 2, 2021, in a race for the Miami City Commission. The DEC reported a donation of $2,275 to Smith on Jan. 28, 2022, nearly three months after the election was over.

“There are legal concerns regarding this contribution … given there is no reason to make this contribution two months after the election unless it was already earmarked for Quinn Smith which is illegal under Florida Statutes,” the letter said.

Verlance Echoles, President of the Miami-Dade Democratic Black Caucus, said she and other concerned DEC members have asked about the DEC’s financial discrepancies and repeatedly called for a review of its records to no avail.

“He (Dempster) won’t answer our questions,’ she said. “There’s always an excuse, and he goes on to another question.”

Echoles also claims Dempster, who is Black, “hasn’t been engaging with the African American community.”

Other signatories to the letter included Miami-Dade Democratic Hispanic Caucus Chair Eleazar Melenedez, Miami Gardens Democratic Club Chair Edith Owens, former DEC Chair Juan Cuba and Cindy Lerner, a former state Representative, Pinecrest Mayor and DEC State Committeewoman.

When Florida Politics reached out to Dempster for comment about the letter and accusations against him, he responded quickly by text.

“I, along with the 246 other members of the Party, remain focused on doing the hard work of registering Democrats, re-enrolling Democrats in Vote by Mail as the (Gov. Ron) DeSantis administration has thrown every single Florida voter off the rolls, and helping elect Democrats,” he wrote before comparing the letter’s authors to the group of GOP lawmakers who for days have held up the naming of a new Speaker of the U.S. House.

“I continue to urge these 10 members to join the rest of us and become part of the solution, as opposed to a cheap Freedom Caucus knockoff,” he wrote.

That response, Junquera said, is further proof the Miami-Dade Democratic Party is rudderless on Dempster’s watch.

“I didn’t think he was going to go this route publicly, but he doesn’t have anyone in his leadership team who guides him, who has experience running a political apparatus or being an elected official,” he said. “When he gives a response like that, it just adds fuel to the fire.”

Florida Politics contacted Diaz for comment but received none by press time. A former Mayor of Miami, he too has faced calls to resign after Democrats’ disappointing performance in November.

The Democratic Executive Committee, the governing body of the Florida Democratic Party, agreed this week to pay a $43,000 settlement with the Federal Election Commission over accusations that the party failed to properly report its debts and accepted over-the-limit donations.


Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.

One comment

  • Charlotte Greenbarg

    January 7, 2023 at 8:31 am

    Follow the money

Comments are closed.


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