Some of Florida’s most influential Democrats are starting to point fingers, demanding an explanation from Florida Democratic Party chairwoman Terrie Rizzo on her role in helping the party allegedly circumvent federal rules to secure a $780,000 federal loan through the Paycheck Protection Program. But so far, Rizzo has flatly refused their requests, insisting that the state party does not want any distractions from the party’s “historic” election campaign to defeat President Donald Trump, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter.
Several prominent Democrats have grumbled privately that the situation needs to be addressed, with one saying it is “far more serious” than party officials are letting on, and could have long-term ramifications that lead all the way to the Democratic National Committee.
The sources say that in early spring, the state’s Democratic party campaign coffers were in dire shape, with the legislative House Victory campaign account essentially broke, while the Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, led by State Senator Gary Farmer, had so little cash that Farmer has again come under fire by other Democrats for his failure to field a full slate of candidates to challenge Republicans in each Senate district.
Democrat leaders, these sources say, were initially rebuffed by an attorney in their first attempt to apply for a loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). The sources say the attorney advised Democrat Party leaders that any attempt to secure cash through PPP was impossible because political parties “were not eligible” for the funds.
What transpired in the following days remains a mystery because FDP officials like Terrie Rizzo, and top elected Democrats like Nikki Fried and Gary Farmer aren’t talking, nor are they demanding answers or accountability.
That is why other Democrats are growing increasingly frustrated. They say that despite warnings, a new application was submitted to the Paycheck Protection Program, this time under the guise of the Florida Democratic Party Building Fund, an incorporated 501(c)(3) that has no employees. In order to qualify for a loan of $780,000, someone – it’s still not clear who – at the Democratic Party is alleged to have listed non-existent employees or used the FDP’s federal employer identification number (FEIN) that is not linked to the Building Fund.
The first page of the PPP application asks general questions regarding the small business seeking the loan, including the name and address of the business and the number of employees. The second page then asks the authorized representative of the small business to make certain representations, authorizations and certifications by signature and initial. That person, sources say, could be Casmore Shaw, who is the current Secretary of the FDP.
Neither Shaw nor Democratic Party spokeswoman Frances Swanson returned messages seeking comment for this story.
FDP Executive Director Juan Penalosa told Florida Politics back in July that “lawyers” and “folks at the DNC” all signed off on the loan application. But sources assert that the buck ultimately stops with Rizzo, who as party chair, has a fiduciary responsibility to ensure that Democrat Party finances are in compliance with state and federal law.