Putney is, inarguably, South Florida's most experienced and respected political reporter. In his four decades in Miami he's chased more than a few crooked pols down courthouse steps around town.
So he didn't waste any time in calling out Levine and Miami Beach Commissioner Jonah Wolfson for their involvement in raising money for a sketchy political action committee chaired by Wolfson.
Last month, the Miami Herald's Joey Flechas reported the PAC, Relentless for Progress, had raised $500,000 in just 30 days.
Putney hit Levine and Wolfson for "strong-arming" city vendors into making huge contributions to the PAC.
There's a Miami Beach city ordinance that prohibits vendors who do business with the city from contributing to candidates' campaigns. So Levine and Wolfson skirt the law by calling vendors and asking them to contribute to the PAC instead.
In his commentary Putney mentions one of the PAC's ads that's now running on cable channels county-wide and that features a walking-talking Mayor Levine.
The ad was crafted by a Tampa-based firm called the Victory Group that coincidentally was responsible for producing Levine's campaign spots when he first ran for mayor in 2013 and when Levine was endorsed by former President Bill Clinton. Ironically, the Victory Group's client list is top-heavy with Republican politicians.
Read Putney's commentary below, or watch the video at the top of this post:
Before we leave you this morning, a personal perspective about a political fund-raising campaign underway on Miami Beach that doesn't pass the smell test. The money....about a million bucks so far... is pouring into a political action committee called "Relentless for Progress."
Some of that money is paying for this TV ad featuring Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is seen bragging about all the good things he and his commission buddies are doing. In fact, there are a lot of good things going on...on the Beach, thanks to Mayor Levine.
[Levine's] a smart guy, a successful businessman and a leader in the campaign to raise awareness about sea level rise and climate change and he was a champion for installing huge pumps on South Beach to alleviate tidal flooding. Good for him. The mayor was also right to stop bars on Ocean Drive from serving drinks outside after 2 a.m. so it didn't become another Bourbon Street.
But the Mayor and his friend Jonah Wolfson, a Miami Beach commissioner who's term limited, are engaged in a fund-raising campaign that just stinks. Their political action committee is strong-arming city vendors for big contributions. The city attorney says it's OK legally and perhaps it is.
But it's not OK morally or ethically. And when two Miami Beach commissioners asked to send the question to the Miami-Dade ethics commission, they were voted down. Unbelievable.
Demanding money from city vendors just is not right. And we're talking about "donations" that range from $20,000 to $100,000.
The ethics commission says it's going to investigate on its own, as well it should. But that will take months. Next fall's election will be long over by the time the ethics commission weighs in.
In the meantime, all that PAC money will be used to elect commission candidates who are supporters of Mayor Levine. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing wrong with running a slate of candidates.
What is wrong is taking money from people who do business with the city...who are limited in the amount they can give individual candidates, but aren't limited in how much they can give to a PAC. The PAC then helps their favored candidates. It's all very clever. And all very stinky.
Mayor Levine has a bright political future. His political action committee is dimming the luster.
Video footnote: Here's one of Mayor Levine's campaign ads from 2013 when he talked about - with a straight face - Miami Beach's "corrupt politicians." Oh, the irony!
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