As Scott Powers reported in the Orlando Sentinel, campaign fundraisers for political candidates are starting to draw crowds. But in the case of Darren Soto, they’re also raising eyebrows.
Soto’s host committee for his District 9 race includes a well known Republican lobbyist and bundler, Fred Leonhardt.
Most people wouldn’t know or care who’s who on a fundraising host committee, but Leonhardt’s name jumped out at me because he was an opponent of the Earned Sick Time initiative, and produced a commentary for WMFE opposing it. This is unsurprising for a lobbyist for Darden and the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association. But it’s a choice that clashes with the image Soto has crafted as the true “progressive” in the race.
As we’ve noted many times before on this blog, it’s fine to be a neoliberal, corporate Democrat. Just don’t market yourself as a Progressive and expect not to be called out on it. Clearly there’s those who are eager to support a Democrat who can be counted on to cross the aisle when the Chamber of Commerce demands it. Why try to pass as something you’re not?
Maybe the identity crisis is meant to appeal to unions or activists he’s also hitting up for support. I can’t imagine that anyone familiar with his voting record, or who knows that he scored a 100% approval from Jeb Bush’s education foundation, would fall for that.
True Progressives steer clear of board members of the Koch-funded James Madison Institute, who max-out donations to Republican Presidential candidates like Leonhardt did a little more than a month ago when he stroked a $2700 check to Jeb Bush’s campaign. Progressives also stand in opposition to the free market fundamentalism pushed in the James Madison Institute’s legislative agenda which includes pension “reform,” prison privatization, and school “choice.”
There’s other Centrist Democrats on Soto’s host committee such as Derek Bruce, who was one of the architects who helped block the creation of a truly Hispanic Orange County Commission seat. Soto should stand tall with this cohort, admit that his record doesn’t reflect Progressive values, and run with the Centrist branding.
If his host committee is any indication, Soto will benefit from the deep pockets that Leonhardt has access to. But what does a Republican bundler and Koch-funded JMI board member, think is valuable in Darren Soto?
Seems to me that the kinds of things Leonhardt might expect in return for his largesse is support for items on the JMI legislative agenda: tax breaks for the wealthy, privatization of public works, and squeezing workers in any way possible. They call it “economic development.”
Which is funny because another issue flying under the radar is the future of “economic development” in Puerto Rico. Whoever is sent to Washington from District 9 could be called upon to help decide policy on how to handle the debt crisis in the island commonwealth. This is exactly the kind of “economic development opportunity,” that a Republican bundler might be interested in cultivating.
Right now Puerto Rico is $70 billion in debt and is unable to re-finance through bankruptcy, which leaves the island open to financial bottom feeders. As Nobel Laureate of Economics, Joseph Stiglitz recently wrote in the Wall Street Journal:
Private creditors are unwilling to admit they made foolish investments, lured by the triple tax break on Puerto Rico’s municipal bonds. And once again the investment funds and banks, rating agencies and insurers who failed to do due diligence on the debtor’s capacity to pay will attempt to shift the blame. Vulture funds swooped in late, looking for a killing.
This is the kind of crisis that presents big opportunities for “vulture capitalists,” and threatens to create new levels of hardship for citizens. Stiglitz suggests remedies which would never be approved by Republican lobbyists:
“…the U.S. must take responsibility for its imperialist past and neocolonial present. Washington owes Puerto Ricans a future based on democratic legitimacy and a financially and socially viable development strategy—a development strategy that is more than a set of tax breaks for profitable U.S. corporations.”
Corporate interests are already lining up to influence policy, and pick the economic carcass clean. For District 9 voters who care about the future of Puerto Rico, the best hope is to send someone to Congress who will stand up to lobbyists bearing checks, and expect little economic development favors in return. Appeasing these interests will result in more hardship for the unincorporated U.S. territory, and suffering for its citizens.
Brook Hines is a writer, photographer, activist and former alt-weekly publisher, as well as an award-winning advertising creative with more than 20 years’ experience crafting strategy in “words + pictures” for clients ranging from banking and financial services to radical nuns. She’s the Senior Political Correspondent for Progressive News Network, the Communications Chair for the Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida, and the 2015-2016 Co-Chair of New Leaders Council, Orlando Chapter. All opinions offered here are her own. You can easily find Brook Hines on Facebook and Flickr. Read all of Brook’s articles here.