The political advisor of a LGBT group that intends to make endorsements in the Miami city elections is also the campaign manager for one of the candidates. And while that appears to be an enormous — and possibly p
lanned — conflict of interest to everyone in the universe, however, is defended as business as usual and no big deal by the group’s leaders.
Unity Coalition sent out questionairres to candidates and is screening them tomorrow. But Ladra is going out on a limb to say that they already know they will be pushing for Kate Callahan in the city’s District 2 race against incumbent Commissioner Marc Sarnoff. This hunch is not based on her stand on issues or any one thing that she has done, but rather on the fact that her campaign manager is UC’s political director, Miami Voice chair and political consultant Vanessa Brito.
After all, Callahan is paying Brito $4,500 a month, according to campaign finance reports, for something. All political operatives have just raised their eyebrows or dropped their jaw. Brito is a newby and $4,500 a month is way out of her league. She is robbing Callahan blind. They say this. Not Ladra. But Ladra knows that the gypsy con artist is totally capable.
Yeah, yeah, both Brito and UC founding president Herb Sosa say there is no conflict because the campaign manager/political chair will abstain from voting. Riiiight. And her hand-picked committee is not going to just rubber stamp her clients. Suuuure. But that’s exactly what they did last year when almost every single pick on their “vote for” list had Brito on the campaign either as staff or volunteer, including such obvious underdogs and arguably unqualified candidates as commission hopeless Mimi Planas and longshot State Rep. candidates Johnny Farias and Lisa L’Esperance. Maybe it’s just loyalty. But it’s not a coincidence. It is, indeed, a conflict of interest, even if it is just perceived as such by the other candidates and their supporters. And UC should go out of its way to ensure that perception is addressed and eliminated.
Two candidates in the District 2 race did not submit the questionnaire and might not even be considered by the board, making their recommendation somewhat useless. The third may noto have been contacted either but Michelle Neimeyer never returned my call so I don’t know. Sarnoff, the incumbent who is easily reached, said he never got it. Nor did he know about the screening tomorrow. This was the same thing other candidates in the 2010 race told Ladra back then. “I guess I am not going to be considered by them,” Sarnoff said. No, Marc, you are not. “Isn’t that a conflict of interest?” Yes, Marc, it most certainly is. Donna Milo, another candidate, agreed with him. She got the questionnaire after Brito contacted Milo’s campaign manager to say they never got it back. But Milo, a Republican transgender who just lost a Congressional bid for the 20th district to replace Debbie Wasserman Schultz, says she does not want to give the campaign manager for her opponent access to use her questionairre in some way. She said she offered to take the answered questions with her for the board to use during the screening only if she could take them with her when she left. “Unless I get to keep copies of Kate Callahan’s answers and the answers of the other candidates. Because Vanessa is going to have access to all of them and that means that Kate Callahan will have access. Why would I turn over the questionairre to my opponent?”
Milo’s gut instinct is right on target, I bet. Brito must really want Milo’s questionnaire. Though Sarnoff said she never reached out to him, she emailed Milo’s campaign manager last week to get her included. “The Unity Coalition Board of Directors is meeting on September 1st (see details below) and would like to meet with as many candidates running on November 1st. While Donna Milo did not complete the questionnaire, we would still like to extend an invitation to join us and talk to our Board,” she wrote. “Please let me know if Donna will be attending.” Antunez said Milo never got a questionnaire and that, later, Brito took that back, telling him that UC founder and president Herb Sosa said that any candidate screened had to fill out a questionnaire. But the political operative is more worried about what he sees about an apparent conflict of interest with Brito’s participation?
“If an organization is going to endorse candidates in a race it should go the extra mile to insure that no one involved in the process is working for any candidate in the race,” said Emiliano Antunez, Milo’s campaign manager. “In the interest of fairness, Unity Coalition should consider completely removing people involved in campaigns from the process of endorsing candidates.
“Ms. Brito may not be voting member but her initiating the contact for Unity Coalition regarding endorsements in the City of Miami Commission District 2 race where she is working for one of the candidates, unnecessarily clouds the process for an organization that has done much needed work on GLBT issues in Miami Dade.”
Brito, in photographs here with Kate Callahan and U.S. Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen at the SaveDADE Champions of Equality event in May, would not respond to a call or an email about this little repetitive conflict controversy. Except to write her comical “cease and desist” mantra and add that she never votes on any election endorsement, which as Ladra already explained, means nada. Her influence in that group is permeable. Ladra has sat in on meetings.
Sosa, however, was very defensive and told Ladra that her information was non-facutal (what information? It was a question) and that she lacked “understanding of the process” when she simply asked legitimate questions about Brito’s role. His answer speaks volumes about his own guilty conscience and fear that I am asking the right questions, so I am going to include it in full, with the questions I asked.
Ladra: “How are you handling the process this year, seeing as how Vanessa is involved in several elections? And is there not a conflict of interest that your political director is also campaign manager for a candidate and working, possibly, on other campaigns?”
Sosa: “Once again your information is non-factual and lacks understanding of the process and issues involved in Unity CoalitionCoalicion Unida and how we have conducted our business since 2002. I will once again attempt to clarify it for you now.
“All individuals running for elected office & positions UCCU deems important and of subtance to our mission, are considered each election cycle – this one being no exception. All qualified candidates have year-round access to our questionnaire via our website and we do our best to reach them as well. Once they return their questionnaire, our board decides if they wish to meet them in person for consideration of UCCU recommendation. Any board member with any conflicts – personal or business – do not vote on recommendations – never have, never will. Our minutes & voting always reflect this.”
“I hope this educates you once again on our process and I expect that any ‘reporting’ by you on this issue be fair, factual, complete & accurate. If you wish to report on issues really affecting our LatinoHispanicLGBT community, I am always available to inform you on the facts.”
Ladra reports on politics and government, but since this group does make endorsements and could have influence — and, just maybe, influence that is manipulated for political gain — perhaps it is a good idea for you and I to meet and discuss your group’s efforts, Herb. Please have the 990s from the last three years and the receipts from your Haiti earthquake relief effort last year ready so I can see them and ask questions about where the money went. Oh, and where the dozens of bottles of donated liquor that were left over went. (Ladra suspects that perhaps they coincidentally ended up at the campaign events that followed in the next week for two of Brito’s clients). Maybe I could ask you about about LGBT groups that hurt the community — of which I am a proud member, by the way, which I have to state because they are capable of turning this into something it is not and have before — by capitalizing on their non-profit status to run scams that the board members financially benefit from?
When do you want to get together? Or should I send a questionnaire?