Ros-Lehtinen’s ‘zombie campaign’: Splurging with other people’s money

Decades before Donald Trump made corruption accepted as an institution in Washington, DC, Miami had already perfected the practice. During that time we’ve elected and reelected indicted politicians, politicians who’ve been shown to have the power to get dead people to vote, politicians with the power to use their commission seat to profit illegally from Section 8 housing for constituents.

There was also the case of then Florida Senate president Marco Rubio who used his Republican Party business card for personal expenses, including family vacations and the repair of family vehicles. Then there was a Miami commissioner, Tomas Regalado, who oddly filled his car several times a day with city gas and blamed it on his auto’s poor gas mileage and his daily trips to visit constituents.

The stories are endless and some quite interesting. I have a friend who once referred to the situation here as one of institutionalizing corruption, thereby (and sort of) legalizing it.

Right smack in the middle of all of this ‘institutional corruption,’ is one of our most visible former politicians, and the first Cuban-American elected to the U.S. Congress from this area, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. She, as has been documented, recently retired as a member of the House of Representatives. 

Still, even in retirement, Ileana continues to show ethically (and possibly illegal) questionable behavior by a former elected official. 

The website FlaPol has a report out that calls the former member of Congress “one of Florida’s most active zombie campaigners.” A zombie campaign is one where former politicians and their staffers hoard unspent campaign donations for years and use them to finance their lifestyle, advance their new careers and pay family members.

And before I explain her so-called “zombie” activities, it is important to remind you that after her retirement, Ileana landed a cushy lobbying job in Washington with the capital’s largest lobbying firm, Akin Gump Strauss. This in itself is questionable. As we have seen politicians leave their jobs on Capitol Hill only to return to lobby on behalf of interests they once legislated for or against… Of course, it’s all made legal because Ros-Lehtinen, for example, cannot lobby her former colleagues for one year…

Posted on the Ros-Lehtinen Twitter feed. The former congresswoman with family members at campaign-funded Disney vacation.

FlaPol reports that Ileana “After leaving office in Jan. 2019 … began her new career as a Washington lobbyist. Yet, Ros-Lehtinen held on to $177,000 she had raised on the campaign trail and still made the money work for her, paying for cellphones, meals, and expensive trips to resorts, such as Disney World’s Boardwalk Inn and the Ritz-Carlton on Amelia Island.”

They continue, explaining: 

“Technically, Ros-Lehtinen closed her personal campaign fund on Oct. 25, 2017, converting the account to the South Florida First Political Action Committee. Converting an account to a PAC is a legal mechanism for candidates who don’t wish to refund leftover donations or donate them to nonprofits.

“However, washing the money through a PAC does not exempt a candidate from the FEC’s prohibition on personal use of the funds.

“One week after converting her leftover campaign funds to the South Florida First PAC, Ros-Lehtinen then rolled the entire $177,445 war chest into another PAC, her namesake IRL PAC, and shut down South Florida First PAC.

“As the Congresswoman was starting to prepare for life after Congress in November 2017, IRL PAC’s spending picked up, including more than $10,000 at high-end steakhouses, seafood, & Italian restaurants in Miami, New York, & DC.

“IRL PAC also reported paying for a trip to Walt Disney World between Nov. 30 and Dec. 5, 2017 that included $2,000 for three rooms at the Boardwalk Inn, $600 for meals at the hotel, and more than $1,000 for 7-to-10 people’s worth of Disney park tickets.”

But don’t despair and shrug your shoulders thinking, “But everyone does that.” There’s more:

“IRL PAC also reported paying for more than $6,000 worth of rooms and meals at the Ritz Carlton on Amelia Island and $30,000 for an event at the W Hotel in Miami, both in May 2018. The PAC reported zero contributions that month.

“It also spent $3,000 at a hotel and $4,200 on meals in New York from Nov. 1-3, 2018, during which time, the PAC reported just a single contribution, a $1,000 check from the head of a DC-area lobbying firm.”

Who can blame her, really? Poor Ileanita retired with a six-figure salary from the U.S. government, health care guaranteed, and now works for a lobbying firm in Washington where she probably gets paid a salary that probably dwarfs her almost $200,000 a year salary she once made as a congresswoman. But it’s never enough, is it. 

Spending other people’s money (and not necessarily for the good of the people)… it’s a long held practice by Miami politicians that has now been perfected at the highest levels by the Trump family.