Rod Smith has only been chairman of the Florida Democratic Party for a little under two weeks and he’s already meeting my expectations. His latest gambit: endorsing a candidate in a Democratic primary, and apparently not realizing that as chairman, that’s no way to build party unity.
If you’re not in Florida and don’t follow local-yokel politics, you’re probably unaware of this mini-controversy over a $16,244 … what, donation? made to Jacksonville mayoral candidate Alvin Brown in December (Christmas eve, to be exact) for “travel expenses.” I’m not sure how extensively you’ve got to travel to campaign around Jacksonville, since it’s not like Alaska, with lots of little islands and no roads, but something tells me it doesn’t cost 16-large… The party has said the expenditure, which happened when Karen Thurman was still chair, and which curiously enough, did not turn up in Brown’s campaign reports, was for travel expenses.
But how to explain why the new chairman, Mr. Smith, has actually endorsed Brown, when there are two candidates in the race? Both candidates are African-American, and Brown is considered a heavy favorite (Bill Clinton has campaigned for him,) but this is no Kendrick Meek-Jeff Greene situation (another case where the party endorsed one Dem over another, except in that case, the endorsement was made like a year before the challenger got into the race… and Lee is no deep pocketed Jeff Greene) In this case, Smith claims his endorsement really isn’t a party endorsement. From Jacksonville.com’s PolitiJax blog:
Brown has faced criticism from the other Democrat in the race, Warren Lee, over the endorsements and donations to his campaign from the party. Smith said he was endorsing Brown personally, and not as party chairman.
But a press release from the Brown campaign quoted Smith as saying he was “here today to express the Florida Democratic Party’s strong support for Alvin Brown’s campaign.”
Huh? How do you “informally” endorse someone when you’re the party chairman? How is your presence at campaign events at which you are introduced, no doubt, as “chairman,” not an official party endorsement? And is Smith’s thumb on the scale just an example of paying it forward, since, let’s face it, a thumb on the scale (namely Bill Nelson‘s) is pretty much how he got to be chair?
Brown’s Dem opponent Warren Lee has publicly objected to the favoritism, but here’s the thing: who’s he gonna complain to … the party chairman…?
UPDATE: A source close to the party process tells me the bylaws of the Florida Democratic Party do not expressly prohibit the chairman (or the party itself) from endorsing in primaries. And the party seems to have made the calculation that Brown is inevitable — which of course rings unpleasantly familiar to anyone who watched the party chairman’s race. Regarding the $16,000 that went into Brown’s campaign, party sources insist it was a transparent issuance of funds to help with Brown’s campaign travel. Warren Lee’s camp isn’t buying it, though, and expect them to keep up the drumbeat over both the endorsement and the cash.
The subtext to this drama is that there are two Democrats, three Republicans and 1 unaffiliated candidate in this race, in one of the few places Rick Scott won with 50 percent of the vote, but which President Obama came darned close to carrying in 2008. Jville will be important to the president’s re-election campaign, which makes this race more interesting than your average mayoral run would otherwise be.
UPDATE: Alvin Brown’s campaign will now file an amended campaign finance report to reflect the $16,244 from the FDP.
“We are currently amending the report to show $16,244 in in-kind contributions from the Florida Democratic Party to cover travel and other campaign related expenses,” campaign spokesman Dave Roman said this afternoon.
The updated report is expected to be filed tomorrow morning.
By state law, a candidate may accept up to $50,000 from a political party. Contributions from individuals and corporations are limited to $500.
The amended report is not likely to brush back the Lee camp, who TRR sources say are considering legal action against the FDP over the provision of funding to one candidate and not the other. And look for that Clinton fundraiser, which raised about $47,000 for Brown, to come back into play as an issue… this one’s still developing…