Joe Saunders crosses $250K raised for HD 106 bid amid ‘Moe Saunders’ controversy

Joe Saunders JS
The district’s Republican incumbent still leads in overall fundraising, though most of his campaign cash is self-given.

Former Democratic Rep. Joe Saunders led fundraising last period for what is now a four-candidate race to represent House District 106, collecting $52,000 — more than 10 times what the incumbent collected — in April and May.

In the year since he filed to run, Saunders has raised about $252,000 between his campaign account and political committee, Friends of Joe Saunders. He had more than $204,000 of that remaining heading into June.

Republican Rep. Fabián Basabe, meanwhile, raised less than $5,000. But he still holds more than anyone else in the contest due to $250,000 worth of self-loans, the unspent portion of which he can take back.

Basabe’s lone Primary challenger, lawyer and former congressional hopeful Melinda Almonte, has loaned her relatively nascent campaign $16,000 since she filed on May 1. No outside donations came in before the end-of-month reporting deadline.

She also spent close to $2,000 on a qualifying fee that every other candidate in the race also paid.

Then there’s Maureen Saunders Scott, Joe Saunders’ aunt and a late-filing no-party candidate from St. Johns County who appears to be trying to run a spoiler campaign against her nephew. On Thursday, Saunders Scott filed an affidavit to change her name on the ballot to “Moe Saunders” — a name one letter different from her nephew’s — and the state Division of Elections obliged.

Saunders received more than 170 personal checks in April and May, an overwhelming majority of them from Florida residents. H. Wayne Huizenga Jr., a real estate executive and the son of billionaire entrepreneur and sports team owner Wayne Huizenga, gave $1,000. So did Senate Democratic Leader-designate Jason Pizzo.

Former state Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley chipped in $250. Miami-Dade Police Maj. John Barrow, one of four Democrats running for county Sheriff, gave $100, as did Surfside Council member Gerardo Vildostegui.

Saunders’ largest single contribution was a $15,000 check from Florida For Everyone, a political committee chaired by Raymond Paultre, who also chairs the liberal donor group, Florida Alliance.

Floridians for Equality, the political committee of former Orlando Democratic Rep. Carlos G. Smith — who just coasted unopposed into a state Senate seat — donated $1,000. So did the political committee of former Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Gongora and Washington-based Vote Save America.

Saunders spent a little over $19,000 last period on consulting, campaign outreach, campaign signs and shirts, marketing, advertising, web fees, transportation and lodging, fundraising event costs, donation and upkeep fees, and a ticket to the sold-out Biscayne Bay Marine Health Summit on May 20.

He also enjoyed nearly $13,000 worth of in-kind aid from the Florida Democratic Party for campaign staff-related expenses.

As he did when he successfully ran for HD 106 in 2022, flipping the long-blue seat red, Basabe, a wealthy socialite, is running a largely self-reliant campaign this year. Of the $300,000 through his campaign account and political committee, Common Sense for Florida, since taking office, all but $50,000 came from his bank account.

He had about $246,000 left going into June.

Fifteen people gave to Basabe in April and May with checks of between $20 and $500. His average donation was $93.

Friends of Jennifer Canady, the political committee of Lakeland Republican Rep. Jennifer Canady gave $1,000.

So did St. Johns Conservative Action, a political committee whose Chair is a Ponte Vedra Beach resident named Doug Worth. Notably, the political committee hasn’t received any donations since November 2022, when TECO Energy and the Florida Chamber of Commerce each gave it $5,000.

Basabe also landed $500 contributions from the Cavalier Hotel in Miami Beach, Miami building materials company Issa-Khan Inc. and AI Advisory Inc., an artificial intelligence consulting firm in the city doing business as Advocacy + Insights.

The company’s founder, Armando Ibarra, wrote a guest column for Florida Politics in December on policymaking for youth social media use.

Basabe spent just over $9,000 last period on travel, food, treasury services, campaign consulting, and bank and fundraising fees.

Online citizen journalism account NoBe Local — Miami Beach first flagged the similarities between Joe Saunders and Maureen Scott Saunders on Sunday, four days before Florida Politics broke the news that the latter candidate had changed her listed name to the almost farcically similar “Moe Saunders.”

Florida Politics also revealed that Saunders Scott had interacted with several of Basabe’s posts on X, in one instance offering him dirt on her nephew, and hounded Saunders daily on the platform with lurid accusations.

Basabe responded to her on Feb. 18, telling her he was “saddened and sorry to see what (she had) gone through.”

Joe Saunders said Saunders Scott is “a distant relative who lives hundreds of miles” from HD 106 and that “there are obvious political games being played” with her candidacy.  His campaign accused Basabe and the Republican Party of Florida of engaging in “a coordinated and orchestrated effort to fool voters in HD 106.”

Basabe denied having anything to do with Saunders Scott’s campaign.

“It’s bad enough that outside interests are attempting to price out our beloved communities. We now have outsiders trying to win our elections,” he told Florida Politics in a statement. “Maybe someone should ask Moe why she’s running before throwing bogus accusations around!”

Florida Politics contacted the Division of Elections on Thursday for an explanation as to why the name change was authorized and received a brief response acknowledging the communique. On Friday, as thousands of candidates across the state were qualifying for their respective races, a representative from the agency said an answer wasn’t likely until Monday.

HD 106 covers a northeastern portion of Miami-Dade, including 10 coastal municipalities from Fisher Island and South Beach to Aventura and Sunny Isles Beach.

The Primary Election is on Aug. 20, followed by the General Election on Nov. 5.

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

  • Michael K

    June 17, 2024 at 12:05 am

    How on earth can elections OK a name change? Aren’t candidates required to use their full legal name? The name that is on her voter ID?

    Something really stinks here. This should be treated as fraudulent activity.

Comments are closed.


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