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In the days right after Hurricane Irma, Sen. Daphne Campbell texted a lobbyist from Florida Power & Light asking him to get the lights back on at her house for her “sick mom,” who she said was using oxygen. But Campbell’s mother died more than 20 years ago, a staffer told the Miami Herald Thursday after Campbell said she was too busy to take the call.
The staffer said Campbell was using “mother” as a Caribbean-American term of respect for an elderly woman who was living in her home at that time. “This was someone who she met when she came to Florida and she knows all of her life since she got here and she calls her mother,” said the staffer, who wouldn’t identify himself. “In Caribbean-American culture you use that term for respected elders and to show deference.”
But a woman who identified herself only as Campbell’s daughter had a different story. “That was my grandmother,” she told a Herald reporter, speaking through an intercom system at the family home. She brushed off a question about her grandmother’s 1996 passing. “Do you only have one grandmother?”
Campbell’s texts and her daughter’s comment seem to be contradicted however by a YouTube video, first reported by the Miami New Times, in which Campbell tells an interviewer in 2016: “[My husband’s] father and his mother died. My father and my mother died. I don’t even have one family [member] in Miami here.”
On Sept. 11, 2017, Campbell texted John H. Holley, vice president of state government affairs at FPL, to get the lights on for her mom, sister and children. A few days later she showed the texts to a reporter from RiseNews, an online publication in Miami, and allowed him to take pictures. On a video posted to RiseNews, the senator appears proud of using her connections to help her family. “This man [Holley] is phenomenal. He is awesome. He’s great. As soon as I text him an address, you got the light,” she said in the video.
In response to allegations that she misused her position, Campbell wrote on social media about her actions immediately after the hurricane: “Most of my calls and texts to a FPL Representative pertaining to rectifying my constituents’ power outage.” Her post pointed out that both her children and her “sick mother” were constituents living at separate addresses within her district, but claimed to have made calls for more than just them.
Campbell has made headlines several times during her political career for a series of small scandals including issues with the IRS, a son who is in and out of jail, and a cash-stuffed Kate Spade purse given to her on her birthday in possible violation of state law if the cash wasn’t reported as campaign contributions. The senator also faced scrutiny in January when her campaign finance reports revealed $13,000 donated after the start of the legislative session, which would be against Senate rules. She brushed it off as a clerical error and revised the report.