Newly elected GOP congressman already under investigation

Miami HeraldJanuary 16, 2011 

MIAMI — After dropping out of a state Senate race last year to run for Congress, David Rivera set aside tens of thousands of dollars from his dormant Senate campaign account to say "thank you'' to supporters of a race he never intended to finish.

Rivera paid the money to a company called ACH Fundraising Strategies -- a Miami-based business founded by the daughter of a longtime aide. He cut a $50,000 check to ACH on July 15, 2010 -- the day before the firm was incorporated as a business.

Those "thank you campaign'' dollars to ACH are now being scrutinized as part of an expanding criminal investigation of the Republican congressman's personal and campaign accounts by Miami-Dade police and prosecutors.

Rivera, who was elected to Congress in November after eight years in the Florida Legislature, declined to be interviewed for this article. In a statement issued through his campaign office, Rivera said all his expenses were proper, though he neither provided details of what ACH did for the money, nor any records verifying the expenses.

"It has always been campaign policy not to disclose details related to campaign strategies and tactics, past, present or future,'' the statement said. ``The campaign reports speak for themselves. All information provided was accurate and all expenses properly reported.''

State law allows candidates to spend excess campaign funds on "thank you'' advertising, and lawmakers commonly take advantage of this to pay for mailers or other ads targeted at reliable voters in their districts, to maintain goodwill and name recognition.

But no one in Florida says thank you like David Rivera.

From 2004 to 2010, Rivera spent almost $243,000 in campaign donations on ``thank you'' expenses -- far more than any other state candidate, and accounting for almost one-quarter of all the thank-you money spent in Florida during that period, a Miami Herald analysis of state campaign data found.

More than $122,000 of Rivera's thank-you expenses went to consulting firms, including two payments to ACH totaling $75,000, records show.

Rivera "has always felt a strong desire to express this appreciation after every election and will continue to do so,'' his campaign statement said.

The $75,000 paid to ACH last year came from Rivera's state Senate campaign -- a campaign Rivera abandoned when he decided to run for Congress on Feb. 25, 2010. Rivera's Senate account held about $379,000 in unspent donations when he launched his congressional run, but campaign-finance laws prohibited him from transferring that money to the federal race.

Rivera, who served as the treasurer of his Senate campaign, made his first $50,000 payment to ACH about five months later, on July 15 -- one day before ACH was incorporated, records show. The company received $25,000 more on Aug. 30.

ACH was founded by Alyn Cruz Higgins, 31, a Miami political fundraiser and consultant. Her mother, Alina Garcia, is an aide on Rivera's congressional staff, after working for Rivera for years in the state Legislature.

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