Ghost candidate ad funder sent money through GOP-linked nonprofit
A top GOP consultant’s nonprofit gave at least $600,000 in September 2020 to a group of black money at the center of Florida’s ‘ghost’ nominee scandal, records show, bringing closer the Republican leadership of the controversy that rocked state politics and resulted in criminal charges against five people.
A group called the Foundation for a Safe Environment contributed to another group, Let’s Preserve the American Dream, which funded an ad campaign promoting independent candidates in three Senate races two years ago. The candidates, including one in Central Florida, did not campaign for those positions but were promoted as progressive alternatives in an apparent attempt to siphon off votes from Democrats in those races.
The Safe Environment Foundation payment was disclosed in a new investigative report released this week in the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office case against the former state senator. Frank Artiles, accused of bribing a friend to show up in an area of Miami. state senate race. Artiles has pleaded not guilty and is due to stand trial in September.
According to the report, prosecutors subpoenaed the Gainesville-based nonprofit for records relating to the transfer in December. The report sets the amount at $600,000.
Stafford Jones, who works closely with consulting firm GOP Data Targeting, is the director of Foundation for a Safe Environment. Data Targeting led Florida Senate Republicans’ campaigns in 2020.
Foundation for a Safe Environment’s transfer was reported on September 30, 2020, just a day after Let’s Preserve the American Dream sent $600,000 to Grow United, a consultant-led nonprofit working closely with Florida Power & Light. This money was used to produce the advertisements that were shown in homes across Central and South Florida to promote independent candidates.
Jones said Friday that the Safe Environment Foundation’s transfer to Preserve the American Dream was unrelated to the latter organization’s Grow United contribution a day earlier. After this story was published online, he disputed the amount of his nonprofit’s transaction to LPAD, sending a screenshot which he says shows it was $630,000. .
Data Targeting was also paying Artiles $15,000 a month to work on the 2020 South Florida State Senate races. It’s unclear what the scope of that work was.
Late last year, the state’s attorney’s office informed Let’s Preserve the American Dream that it was the target of its investigation. The organization’s executive director, Ryan Tyson, a former vice president of Associated Industries of Florida, said Friday that money from the Foundation for a Safe Environment was not used to produce the direct mail promoting the independent candidates.
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Files released on Friday also revealed that investigators had been monitoring Alex Alvarado, who headed the two political committees that sent the ads, sat outside his Tallahassee home and his wife’s workplace on at least three occasions in October 2021, in preparation for a possible search warrant.
It is unclear from the report, which documented investigators’ work from last September to late December, whether Alvarado’s home was subsequently searched.
Like Preserve the American Dream, Alvarado was informed in December that he was the target of the prosecutor’s investigation.
Five people, including two former candidates, faced criminal charges under the 2020 “ghost” nominee program, which helped pave the way for Republicans to win three competitive Senate races.
Those races include Central Florida’s Senate District 9, where consultant Eric Foglesong and candidate Jestine Iannotti are charged with crimes and accused of willfully misrepresenting Iannotti’s campaign contributions. A third person, Seminole County GOP Chairman Ben Paris, faces a misdemeanor charge that he contributed to Iannotti’s campaign on behalf of his cousin.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Stafford Jones is challenging the amount of the September 30, 2020 transfer from his nonprofit to Preserve the American Dream. An investigative report from the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s Office said it was $600,000, while Jones says it was $630,000.