By Francisco Alvarado, FloridaBulldog.org
Having raised $5 million for Marco Rubio’s presidential aspirations, billionaire automobile dealer Norman Braman is also betting big money on another Miami Republican who is seeking to succeed Rubio in the U.S. Senate in 2016.
In mid-May, Braman gave $100,000 to a super political action committee set up for Florida Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who officially announced his federal campaign last month. The six-figure sum was the largest single donation to Reform Washington, which raised a total of $744,642 during the first six months of 2015, according to a recent campaign finance report. Super Pacs are allowed to raise unlimited funds from corporations, labor unions and the rich.
Another Lopez-Cantera affiliated PAC, Reform Washington Leadership, has collected $143,049, but none from Braman.
Lopez-Cantera, who is also close friends with Rubio, will go up against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and first-time candidate and defense contractor Todd Wilcox of Orlando, in the 2016 Republican primary.
Braman did not return a phone message or an email seeking comment, but the politically influential civic activist has long counted on Lopez-Cantera as an ally.
In 2010, Lopez-Cantera — at the time a state representative who ascended to house majority leader — co-chaired a recall committee against then-Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Alvarez organized and funded by Braman.
In March 2011, after the Braman-led ouster of Alvarez was successful, Lopez-Cantera co-sponsored a bill that would have allowed Miami-Dade’s legislative delegation to place referendum questions directly on the county ballot, without receiving commission approval or collecting petition signatures as is now required. Braman told the Miami Herald he supported the measure, citing the high cost of gathering petition signatures and getting out the vote. The legislation ultimately failed to reach the House floor.
As Lopez-Cantera’s profile grew, so did Braman’s political contributions to him. In 2008, Braman, his wife, and six of his corporations gave a combined $4,000 to Lopez-Cantera’s reelection campaign for state house. Two years later, the Bramans bundled $6,500 for another campaign to re-elect Lopez-Cantera. Both times, he ran unopposed.
In 2012, Braman, his companies and his wife poured $35,000 into Lopez-Cantera’s successful campaign for Miami-Dade Property Appraiser, including $30,000 to Citizens for Lower Property Taxes, a PAC chaired by the Cuban-American politico’s sister, Monica Cantera-Serralta.
In 2010, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office investigated allegations that Lopez-Cantera’s campaign paid $37,500 to a bogus political consulting firm owned by Cantera-Serralta and her husband Gadyace Serralta during two of his re-election efforts. According to a close out memo issued a year later, prosecutors determined no crime was committed.
“While it may not look good to campaign contributors or to the general public that a company wholly held by the candidate’s sister and brother-in-law made a profit on the campaign,” wrote assistant state attorney Howard Rosen. “Actual work was done by them, and there is nothing to preclude them from profiting from their work.”
Last February, after serving nearly two years as Miami-Dade property appraiser, Lopez-Cantera was selected by Gov. Rick Scott as his lieutenant governor, replacing the scandal plagued Jennifer Carroll. Braman was among the invited guests at Lopez-Cantera’s swearing-in ceremony in Tallahassee.