MIAMI (AP) _ More than six months after state prosecutors confirmed they were investigating U.S. Rep. David Rivera's campaign and personal finances, the South Florida congressman appears to be weathering the legal storm but is struggling to raise money for his 2012 campaign.
Rivera saw his contributions drop by more than half during this year's second quarter, to $33,000 from $75,000 in the first quarter, as he faces questions on a range of issues, including unexplained campaign reimbursements he made to himself and a secret contract with a casino he arranged through his mother's public relations company to represent it during a local gambling referendum. House Speaker John Boehner has said that while he is concerned about the allegations, he will wait to see how they play out.
The Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office said the investigation is ongoing, but one veteran prosecutor was reassigned from the case and the chief of the public corruption unit recently announced he is leaving.
Asked about the investigation, Rivera responded through an email from his campaign, writing: “Congressman Rivera feels great about 2012. He is staying focused on creating jobs, balancing the budget and improving the economy.''
Rivera enjoys a plum assignment on the Foreign Affairs Committee and has one of the Congress' most robust public relations machines, which often sends out daily press releases detailing his actions _ though staff rarely publicizes his appearances beforehand.
South Florida real estate developer and Republican National Committee Board Member Stanley Tate said he remains supportive of Rivera.
“He's been meeting with constituents. I can attest to that,'' Tate said, adding that he would withhold judgment until Rivera “has the opportunity to defend himself against specific charges.''
Former Florida GOP Executive Director Jamie Miller said corruption investigations can often take a year if not longer.
“Where people have real problems is once they are indicted,'' Miller said. “But if it doesn't reach that level, my guess is David will be fine.''
Yet Rivera no longer exercises the same influence in South Florida circles that he once did as head of the Miami-Dade Republican Party. During a local Republican dinner in January, he was relegated to a table off to the side, as his longtime friend and former housemate U.S. Senator Marco Rubio sat front and center, lauded by party loyalists. The two took photos together in the VIP section but not in front of the media.
Rivera, who took in nearly $2 million during his 2010 maiden congressional campaign, saw his contributions drop sharply in the second quarter, after prosecutors confirmed their investigation. He's raised less than a number of Florida lawmakers in districts far safer than his own, like Democrat Frederica Wilson, who won 86 percent of the vote, compared to Rivera, who took 52 percent last year.
Rivera launched his campaign less than a year before the election in 2010, but back then he didn't have a debt of more than $150,000 and ethics questions, which make fundraising more of a challenge.
“Especially when more than one accusation surfaces, donors and colleagues wonder what else is lying beneath the rock,'' said Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College in Southern California
Rivera's district, which stretches across South Florida into the Everglades, is roughly evenly divided among Democrats, Independents and Republicans and will likely be reshaped by the 2010 Census, making it a bright target for Democrats, who have already begun robocalls there. Still, they have an uphill battle against Rivera. No primary challenger has emerged nor has any Democratic candidate. Even the Democrats' robocalls seem more form than substance_ they are being done only in English in a district where many swing voters speak Spanish.
Rivera's finances first drew attention when it was revealed the four-term state representative, who made less than $30,000 annually in the Florida Legislature and held several mortgages, had listed the federal government agency USAID as a source of outside income on his state financial disclosure throughout his four terms in Tallahassee. When asked about his work for the federal foreign aid and economic development agency, Rivera repeatedly changed his story or sidestepped questions.
He eventually said he'd done work as a subcontractor for a Puerto Rican company he owned, but USAID had no records of either Rivera or the company. Similarly, employees at another company he listed said he had never received a contract or salary from that firm. The firm's owner was a one of Rivera's top campaign donors in 2010 but has yet to contribute this cycle.
Rivera came under more scrutiny when The Miami Herald reported a secret deal he'd made to run a campaign to expand gambling in Miami-Dade County. Rivera had long said he volunteered his time for the campaign and never took a penny. But a contract with the owners of a local casino became public after the election. It showed he was hired as the point man on the multimillion dollar campaign through an agreement with a firm formerly owned by his mother that reopened days before the deal. His mother soon returned to the company as vice president.
As that story went to print, Rivera quietly amended his federal campaign disclosures to add a $132,000 loan from the company.
The AP also found that during his years in the Legislature, Rivera reimbursed himself for more than $160,000 in campaign expenses, far more than any other top Florida lawmaker, much of which was unexplained. Rivera also spent hefty amounts in state campaign funds for so-called “thank you campaigns,'' including $50,000 to a firm owned by the daughter of his top aide _ paid one day after she incorporated the company. The firm was dissolved six months later.