A 'nightmare scenario': Florida utility company used 'a shadowy nonprofit group' to back GOP Senate candidate

A 'nightmare scenario': Florida utility company used 'a shadowy nonprofit group' to back GOP Senate candidate
Florida Power & Light truck (image via Screengrab / Twitter @insideFPL).

New details are coming to light about a Florida utility company's use of secret funds to push a Republican incumbent's campaign in Gainesville, Fla.

According to new documentation acquired and reviewed by the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau, Florida Power & Light "used a shadowy nonprofit group to secretly bankroll a spoiler candidate, a longtime Democrat named Charles Goston," the Tampa Bay Times reports.

Per the report, Goston running as a no-party candidate led to him splitting the Democratic vote and he subsequently offset enough votes from the Democratic opponent to swing the race in favor of the Republican incumbent."

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Per The Tampa Bay Times:

"The documents show that the utility sent $200,000 to the nonprofit, a Washington D.C.-based group called Broken Promises, in the fall of 2018. Within five weeks, Broken Promises had donated $20,000 to Goston’s political committee and spent roughly $115,000 on mailers and advertising supporting him. Best of all for Florida Power & Light: Because of its nonprofit status, Broken Promises didn’t have to disclose its donors — meaning the cash was untraceable. No one would know that the utility had paid to secretly manipulate a state election in favor of Republicans. Voters were in the dark about who funded Goston and why."

In wake of the latest findings, Saurav Ghosh, director of federal campaign finance reform at the Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center, slammed corporate figures for influencing elections.

“This is pretty much the nightmare scenario,” Ghosh said. “You have a powerful corporate player in Florida politics using its financial resources to defeat a candidate without any disclosure to the public. … This is election rigging.”

Philip Hackney, a tax law expert at the University of Pittsburgh Law School, also weighed in with similar sentiments. “This is primarily used by wealthy players and those who run corporations,” Hackney said. “It is an opportunity for them to have their fingers on the scale of elections … without the public having any insight. To run a free and fair democracy, you really need people operating in the light, truthfully and forthrightly.”

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Hackney also noted that the utility company could have simplified its campaign support of Goston by doing so publicly.

“You have to wonder why they didn’t just do that,” he said. “It tells you they have concerns about disclosing their support of this candidate to voters and they had some intention to hide it.”

In response to the latest reports, the utility company's spokesperson Christopher McGrath released a statement.

“(Florida Power & Light) requires that its 501(c)(4) contributions are done in compliance with all applicable laws,” said McGrath, referring to the formal name for tax-exempt groups like Broken Promises. “We do not control any 501(c)(4)s and when we donate money to an organization, regardless of tax status, we no longer control how that money is spent. We believe any assertion to the contrary is unfounded.”

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