Amid reports of ties to dark money donor in 2020 scheme, House Democrats adviser quits

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A top consultant and fundraiser resigned as an adviser to the Florida House Democrats’ campaign arm days after court documents and reports revealed his ties to an alleged sham candidate scheme.

Dan Newman, a longtime senior adviser to House Victory, had communicated with consultants who helped orchestrate a scheme to siphon votes from Democrat candidates in key Senate races in 2020, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Newman told the Miami Herald in a text message that he broke the news to House Democratic Leader-designate Ramon Alexander on Thursday.

“It would be best to resign as senior adviser to avoid becoming a distraction,” Newman wrote. “I reiterated to him that I am committed to the success of House Victory and always will be.”

Documents leaked to the Sentinel show Newman, who previously lobbied for Florida Power & Light, received a $1.25 million check from FPL to his consulting firm in September 2020, which he shared with consultants working on the election scheme.

“The eagle has landed,” Newman wrote to two consultants from an Alabama-based political and communications consulting firm. The firm, Matrix, helped set up dark-money group Grow United, which is a focus in the Miami-Dade County state attorney’s months-long investigation into an alleged GOP-led vote-siphoning scheme in Senate District 37.

Alexander, who declined to comment on Newman’s ties to the scheme, said his plan moving forward is “controlling what we can control.”

“My focus is on our members and our program,” Alexander, a Tallahassee Democrat, said in an interview. “We are excited about where we are going, and our collective decisions will be based off of what is in the best interest of the caucus.”

Grow United contributions from all sides

According to records that are part of the investigation, Newman had also advised Josh Weierbach, the executive director of the progressive nonprofit Florida Watch Inc., to give $115,000 to Grow United.

Weierbach told the Herald last month that he believed the money would be used to help flip one state Senate seat in Central Florida and defend one in Miami-Dade. But Grow United was also being used by Republicans to support an effort designed to hurt the very same candidates progressives wanted to support.

The consultants Newman was in contact with were part of a Republican cause that involved tens of thousands of mailers paid for by Grow United being sent to voters in three key Senate races in an attempt to siphon votes from three Democratic candidates: José Javier Rodríguez in Senate District 37, Javier Fernandez in Senate District 39 and Patricia Sigman in Senate District 9.

Voters in Senate District 37 received dark money-funded mailers that featured little-known, third-party candidate Alex Rodriguez. The mailers aimed to “confuse” voters.
Voters in Senate District 37 received dark money-funded mailers that featured little-known, third-party candidate Alex Rodriguez. The mailers aimed to “confuse” voters.

Fernandez and Sigman both lost their races. Miami Republican Ileana Garcia, a first-time candidate, beat Rodriguez after a three-day recount by just 32 votes out of more than 215,000 cast. Alexis Rodriguez, former state Sen. Frank Artiles’ longtime acquaintance who shared a surname with the incumbent, received 6,382 votes as a no-party candidate in the election.

Investigators allege Artiles paid Alexis Pedro Rodriguez nearly $45,000 with the understanding that he would change his party affiliation from Republican to no party to qualify as a candidate in the race. Both men turned themselves in to authorities in March and pleaded not guilty, though Rodriguez is now cooperating with investigators as part of a plea deal.

Newman told the Herald last month that “in hindsight, it is clear that the money was being used at cross-purposes.”

When asked if he knew Grow United was also helping the Republican effort, Newman said: “Absolutely not,” noting that he only learned about it after the election was over.

Newman told the Herald last month that he does not know and has not asked what other groups have given money to Grow United, and said the dark money group was suggested to him by Jeff Pitts, an Alabama-based public affairs consultant with Canopy Partners, after Newman told him he wanted to find an organization “willing to support some Democratic Party projects.”

The Matrix employees Newman had been in communication with now work for Canopy Partners, and the two groups are tied up in a lawsuit concerning whether the ex-Matrix staffers conspired with a client to reroute fees.

Before he joined House Victory, Newman helped run the judicial retention campaigns of Florida Supreme Court Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente and Peggy A. Quince and served as statewide political director for Alex Sink’s unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010.

Alexander said Newman’s departure will help with the transition of leadership in the caucus.

“We have been working over the last several months to complete our full transition with me serving as House Democratic Leader-designate,” Alexander said. “Mr. Newman has been a consummate professional in regards to the transition process. we are excited about where we are and the momentum that we are getting.”

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau reporter Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.

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