Miami commissioner moves $100K from aborted bid for congress to reelection PAC

Miami Commissioner Ken Russell’s got a brand new bag … of campaign cash.

This summer, months after aborting his bid to replace U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in Congress, Russell moved $100,000 from his congressional campaign committee into a state-registered PAC supporting his reelection to the city commission. The transfer occurred days after the June 30 cutoff period for the most recent round of federal campaign finance reports, so it hasn’t yet been disclosed on the Federal Election Commission’s campaign database.

The six-figure move is perfectly legal, if not common. Former congresswoman Gwen Graham, for instance, moved $250,000 in congressional campaign cash to a state-registered political committee last year as she prepared to run for Florida governor.

Reached Saturday, Russell said he contacted all his donors after withdrawing from the Democratic primary for Florida’s 27th congressional district in order to ask whether they wanted their money returned, donated to a charity or were comfortable leaving it in his hands to use in his political endeavors.

“Every dollar that’s in that state PAC has expressly been stated by the donor that I can use it for any of those purposes,” he said. “I really felt like this was not my money. I said ‘I didn’t complete the race. These are your funds. I’m happy to send it back.’”

Through the end of June, Russell’s congressional campaign reported $61,274 in donor refunds, some of it pro-rated, some of it returned in full. Another Miami politician who dropped out of the race on the same day, state Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, has reported $100,885 in refunds and doesn’t appear to have transferred any money toward his 2020 reelection bid.

Russell also reported giving $5,200 to non-profits like Coconut Grove Cares, and another $55,000 to the Florida Democratic Party and Miami-Dade Democratic Party from his congressional committee. He also gave $10,000 to the reelection bid of Democratic state Rep. Javier Fernandez, who has frequently lobbied the Miami City Commission as a land-use attorney.

Russell had $125,599.48 left in the congressional account at the end of June. On July 13, most of that money was transferred to a state PAC called Turn the Page, which over the last month has been used to pay for polling, political consulting and contributions to other candidates and the Democratic Party.

“I want to help people I believe in get into their seats. So far it’s worked well,” Russell said.

Russell is not officially affiliated with the new political committee beyond its stated support of his reelection bid. It’s chaired by attorney Renata Benedini, Russell’s sister-in-law. As of last week, the only money deposited into the PAC was from Russell’s congressional account.

So far, through Oct 4, the committee has spent $41,882.26.

Its expenses include $5,000 to the state Democratic Party and $5,000 to the party’s Miami-Dade chapter, $1,000 to the reelection campaign of Miami Commissioner Manolo Reyes and $2,500 to the reelection bid of State Sen. Annette Taddeo. Another $2,500 was spent on accounting, and close to $25,000 on polling and consulting through the firm of strategist Fernando Diez.

Russell said the polling was issues-based and conducted in his district, a coastal area stretching from Morningside to Coconut Grove. The committee also spent $864.73 on Oct. 4 for airfare, which Russell said is related to an upcoming trip to Japan for an upcoming gathering of the US-Japan Council.