The Miami-Dade Republican Party paid Esther Nuhfer, a political consultant with close ties to freshman Rep. David Rivera (R-FL), $150,000 in the weeks before Election Day last fall. That much it knows for sure. What party officials don’t know, exactly, is what she did with the money.
When the payments were made, Rivera was still serving as the party’s chairman, though his campaign told The Miami Herald he recused himself from day-to-day oversight and decision-making after winning his primary in August. Rivera is currently under investigation by state and local officials for his personal and campaign expenses, and the Herald reports that investigators are also looking into his relationship with Nuhfer. When asked about Nuhfer by TPM, both Rivera and his office refused to answer questions directly, referring us instead to a comcast.net campaign email address.
The Miami-Dade GOP gave Nuhfer’s firm Communication Solutions the money — its largest expense in 6 years — without any written contract, and it has no detailed invoices of where the money went, according to the Herald. The invoices it does have were described as “simplistic” by state Rep. Erik Fresen, the party’s new chairman.
“I haven’t seen detailed records like that,” Treasurer Jose Alcaraz Jr. said.
Party records do show that at least $100,000 of the money was earmarked for “media” consulting, and party executive director J.C. Hernandez told the Herald that money was supposed to pay for spots on two Spanish-language radio stations: WAQI-710 AM and its sister station WQBA-1140 AM. Station records show the party bought $34,500 in air time at the two stations. Five other area Spanish-language stations did not sell any air time to the party last fall. Party officials acknowledged the disparity to the Herald, but appeared untroubled:
Asked if he expected Communication Solutions to spend more than $34,500 on radio time, Hernandez said: “Absolutely, yeah.”
Despite the discrepancy, Hernandez and Fresen said there is no reason to believe the money was spent inappropriately.
“We swept every race, so it’s difficult to say the money wasn’t spent properly,” Fresen said.
Hernandez said the party had a “verbal contract” with Nuhfer’s company, which he said is not an uncommon practice. In addition to money for radio ads, the party paid Communication Solutions $25,000 for a “get-out-the-vote campaign,” and another $25,000 from a federal campaign account “for both media and a voter drive,” the Herald reports. The company did help provide transportation to voters, and recruited poll workers to hand out Republican party literature at voting stations, according to Hernandez. But Hernandez also said he’d asked Nuhfer for better records of the expenses.
“We’re still waiting on that,” he said.
Rivera’s campaign said the party “followed long-standing standard practice by ensuring that all expenditures to Communication Solutions were properly documented with invoices,” and added that the firm was chosen by a party board vote after Rivera had already recused himself. The money to pay Nuhfer came from the $370,000 raised during Rivera’s 2-year chairmanship, money that helped fund an aggressive overall voter drive that resulted in 61 percent of registered Republicans in the area voting in 2010. One of the party’s largest donors was Rivera himself, the Herald reports: “In July, he gave the county party $30,000 — the most allowed under state law — from his abandoned state Senate campaign, records show.”
Around the same that the Miami-Dade GOP was making payments to Communication Solutions, Rivera’s campaign was also paying the firm thousands of dollars for campaign work. FEC records show that in October, the campaign paid Communication Solutions over $192,000 for “media placement.” Earlier in the year, Nuhfer contributed $4,400 to Rivera’s campaign.
CBS4 Miami reports that Rivera calls Nuhfer “his political fundraiser,” but that friends say the pair is “much closer”:
The two have been known to travel together outside of Miami and they recently attended a black tie event for Miami Dade College, having their picture taken as a couple for the college magazine.
TPM found the picture on the Miami Dade College’s website:
In a 2009 joint St. Petersburg Times-Miami Herald article about political consultants who double as lobbyists, Rivera and Nuhfer’s relationship was cited as an example of how political committees gives lawmakers the opportunity to steer business to friends:
Consultant-lobbyist Esther Nuhfer earned most of her $201,000 from the campaign and political committee of her friend, Republican Rep. David Rivera of Miami.
Records reviewed by TPM suggest Nuhfer has ceased lobbying in recent months. She reported $0 in lobbying compensation in the last quarter of 2010. And as of Tuesday, she had not re-registered as a lobbyist in Florida in 2011, though there is no deadline for registration. Nuhfer did not respond to the Herald’s interview requests, and TPM’s calls to the number listed for Communication Solutions in 2010 registration documents went to what was apparently a fax line.
TPM’s call the Miami-Dade Republican Party was not immediately returned.
Late Update: Approached by a TPM reporter following a hearing of the Committee on Foreign Affairs Wednesday, Rivera told the reporter to meet him outside of the room. After emerging from the members only area a few minutes later, Rivera asked the reporter to “do him a huge favor” and send questions about his relationship with Communication Solutions to a Comcast.net e-mail address set up for his campaign.
Later Update: In response to a call from TPM, Rivera spokesperson Leslie Veiga told TPM that “the questions on that issue are being handled by the congressman’s campaign,” and gave the same Comcast.net email address Rivera gave earlier.
TPM will update if the campaign responds.
Additional reporting by Ryan J. Reilly
Eric Lach is a reporter for TPM. From 2010 to 2011, he was a news writer in charge of the website’s front page. He has previously written for The Daily, NewYorker.com, GlobalPost and other publications. He can be reached at ericl(at)talkingpointsmemo.com