Miami-Dade Commission eyes new Sophia Lacayo-inspired campaign fundraising requirements
Juan Carlos Bermudez intends to set concrete guidelines for municipal annexations. Image via Juan Carlos Bermudez.

Juan Carlos Bermudez
‘With today’s technology, what is good for the county and the state should be good for all municipal governments in our county.’

The alleged campaign finance misdeeds of former Sweetwater Commissioner Sophia Lacayo could lead to some good after all, due to legislation her former opponent for county office is backing.

On Wednesday, the Miami-Dade Commission is scheduled to vote on a proposed ordinance that would require municipalities to publicly provide — and maintain — more information on the fundraising and spending of candidates for local office.

The measure’s sponsor, Juan Carlos “J.C.” Bermudez, said he was inspired by the trouble he had tracking down the sources of Lacayo’s past donations when the two competed for the County Commission last year.

“When running for county office, it was difficult to get my opponent’s campaign contributions when she ran previously in (Sweetwater),” he told Florida Politics.

Bermudez defeated Lacayo in a head-to-head contest last year with 66% despite Lacayo reporting a larger, nearly $1.8 million campaign war chest.

Lacayo now faces 21 counts of campaign finance violations, including eight felonies carrying up to five-year prison sentences apiece.

Sophia Lacayo raised eyebrows last year when she amassed nearly $1.8 million toward her bid for the Miami-Dade Commission and reported nearly all of that sum as coming from her bank account or businesses she owns. Image via Miami-Dade Corrections.

Bermudez wants city election offices to operate more like Doral, where he long served as Mayor, by offering simple and clear public access to information on the money movements of current and past candidates.

This ordinance would do that, he said.

“We had (nearly identical requirements) instituted in Doral, when I was the founding Mayor, and I believe it has continued the process where all campaign contributions would be online and easy to find,” he said. “With today’s technology, what is good for the county and the state should be good for all municipal governments in our county.”

If passed, the ordinance would require each of Miami-Dade’s 34 municipalities to publish on its website:

— A list of all current candidates running for municipal office.

— The campaign finance reports for the candidates, filed in accordance with state statutes and including all contributions received and all expenditures made on behalf of the candidate within each reporting period.

— A list of all candidates in the prior two elections for municipal office, as well as their campaign finance reports.

Cities would have until March 16, 2024, six months from the effective date of the ordinance, to certify in writing that they have complied with the new conditions.

“Ease of access to the campaign financial reports is necessary for the public to make informed decisions about candidates,” a memo accompanying the ordinance said. “Facilitating the public’s access to candidates’ campaign finance reports encourages accountability among elected officials.”

Bermudez filed the measure in March, after which Commissioners Kevin Marino Cabrera and René García signed on as co-sponsors. It received unanimous approval on first reading April 4 and cleared the County Infrastructure, Operations and Innovations Committee by a 3-0 vote following a public hearing July 11.

The proposal follows changes state lawmakers approved during the 2023 Legislative Session of Florida’s long-standing requirements for campaign finance reporting.

Before the changes, most state and local candidates had to file reports monthly. Under the new rules, they need only file reports quarterly, on the 10th days of January, April, July and October, the same as for federal candidates.

The reports must come more regularly as elections near, including on the 60th day preceding a Primary Election and biweekly each Friday thereafter through and including the fourth day before the General Election.

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.


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