Candidates running for office have to walk a fine line during the coronavirus pandemic. Usually the four major candidates raise and spend half a million dollars a month. Not in April.
While candidates did not overtly ask for money or campaign, Miami-Dade County campaign finance documents show people took different paths.
According to Miami-Dade campaign finance documents, Commissioner Xavier Suarez raised $0 with his campaign and his political committee, Imagine Miami. His two organizations spent $1,765 in April, mostly for accounting service on previous activity.
Commissioner Suarez told NBC 6 he thought there was a truce between the candidates stopping political activity during the pandemic.
“It’s not a good moment to campaign. It’s not a good moment to raise campaign funds,” said Suarez. He does not feel the month off of campaigning will hurt him getting his message out to voters.
“Hopefully, they see what I’m trying to do as a commissioner. Never mind campaigning, which will be later on,” said Suarez.
The other three major candidates - Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava, Commissioner Steve Bovo, and former Mayor Alex Penelas - continued to raise and spend money but at lower levels than normal. All four candidates were seen around the county at service events, testing drives, food giveaways and other community charities. Their primary attention was helping Miami-Dade during the pandemic.
Shifting Campaigns to Help
Commissioner Levine Cava’s campaign and political committee Our Democracy raised $12,844 and spent $108,332. The largest chunk of that came from a $38,350 expense for advertising. Levine Cava told NBC 6 it was for the final push to market and collect petition signatures to get on the ballot. If she survives the August primary and wins in November, Levine Cava would be the first female mayor and she says the petition drive was going to continue for that historic benchmark.
“We did not actively campaign during this pandemic. We were checking in on the wellbeing of our citizens of our community. But there is a mayor’s race. There will be a vote,” said Levine Cava.
Her records show most of the other money went to access to the voter file, retainers, consulting services, and professional fees - so she could keep her seven campaign staffers on the payroll and not lay them off during the pandemic.
She said those staffers continued to organize volunteers to organize charity events and check in on people in the county during hectic times.
“We sent postcards to older citizens. We made calls, tens of thousands of calls. We have been very actively reaching out in the community during this time. Money well spent,” said Levine Cava.
Her largest donation came from AECOM Technology, an engineering firm, who sent Our Democracy $5,000. It’s important to note, some campaign donations can take weeks to come into the campaign and be reported. Levine Cava told NBC 6 they suspended fundraising in April.
Former Miami-Dade County Mayor Alex Penelas is running again for his old job and is usually the leader in fundraising. In April, his campaign and political committee, Bold Vision, reported raising $37,350 and spending $70,712.
Campaign records show much of the spending was on consulting, professional fees, payroll, and texting. Penelas was not available for an interview but his campaign told NBC 6 they stopped public-facing campaign activity, fundraising, and advertising.
Instead, their resources shifted to an effort to coordinate help during the COVID-19 pandemic called #ServingMiamiDade.
The effort is “an on-going and privately-funded community partner program that works to address our residents’ immediate and long-term needs due to the pandemic” wrote a campaign spokeswoman.
Penelas’s #ServingMiamiDade organized in-person food and aid drives.
For the monthly fundraising haul, including $5,000 checks from Mata Consult Inc, BBB Supplies, and Aecom Technology, a campaign spokesperson wrote NBC 6, “While we did not proactively do any fundraising over the past two months, we were happy that some supporters still chose to continue to contribute to our campaign and expect to have a relative good showing in May despite the slowdown.”
Commissioner Steve Bovo also organized several charity events during the pandemic, including testing and food drives.
Bovo’s campaign and political committee, A Better Miami-Dade, raised $20,000 and spend $30,839. His largest donation in April was $15,000 from Reform Government PAC. His largest expense was $17,970 for canvassing.
NBC 6 requested an interview with Bovo’s campaign and have not heard back.
Another commissioner, Jean Monestime, dropped out of the race during the pandemic citing challenges brought by the coronavirus. He will continue to lead his district through the crisis.
“A large segment of the constituency I depend on for this campaign is amongst the hardest hit,” he wrote in a statement stepping out of the race. "Many of them are now laid off and uninsured.”
A Fine Line
All the candidates had said campaigning would fall by the wayside during the pandemic. NBC 6 political analyst Carlos Curbelo said they would still need to stay in the spotlight - with a soft touch. Blowback from the community could come if they were too aggressively asking for money or votes while the crisis continued.
"They might be calling voters at home. Not with hard sells, strong campaign messages. But maybe asking people how they’re doing. Asking if they need anything. Or if they have any concerns they want to share during the crisis. I think you have to stay active but it has to be a soft campaign,” said Curbelo.
None of the candidates ran attack advertisements against each other or criticized each other while people in the county were battling the pandemic and the economic crisis that comes with it. The election in August is three months away, so that could soon change.
Three of the candidates are serving on the Miami-Dade County Commission: Levine Cava, Suarez, and Bovo. They were able to stay in front of voters with county zoom meetings and press conferences touting government activity. To combat the power of incumbency, Penelas has mobilized a large fundraising network that will give him resources through the end of the campaign.
“What they’re trying to do to survive is get any attention that they possibly can. But generally speaking it’s going to be hard for any of these candidates to break through when this is going on. That tends to benefit the candidates who are best known and who might have a fundraising advantage from the work they did before the crisis,” said Curbelo.
Suarez and Bovo must leave office in November under county term limits. Florida has a resign-to-run law so Levine Cava must give up her seat to run.