Former West Palm Beach City Commissioner Shanon Materio alleged in election complaints Thursday that her opponent’s political adviser, Rick Asnani, hid contributor names by having campaign donors give through shell corporations.
In three complaints she said she filed to the Florida Elections Commission, Materio alleged that Coalition for American Jobs, Inc., Taxpayers for American Jobs, Inc. and Citizens for Safer Neighborhoods, Inc. collected hundreds of thousands of dollars for political purposes without declaring themselves political organizations, which are required to identify contributors. All three were created and run by Asnani, whose Cornerstone Solutions, Inc. served as Lambert’s political consultant leading up to the March 13 election, the complaints said.
Any group that collects more than $500 for political purposes is required to register and identify its donors but these three didn’t, according to the complaints. At least one passed $55,000 or more to a political organization called WPB Residents for Integrity in Government Inc., which in turn paid for negative mailers about Materio. That organization is run by Bill Newgent, a political operative allied with Lambert and Asnani.
“I have not been involved with any of those committees nor have any knowledge of their donors or activities,” Lambert said Friday in an email.
Newgent did not return phone or email messages but sent copies of two elections complaints he filed several months ago against Materio.
Asnani said he had not been formally notified of the complaints against his companies but that the law did not permit him to comment on them.
“These complaints are politically motivated,” he said. “It seems she is bringing up these complaints two months after losing her election to deflect her own possible election violations.”
“Yes, this is politically motivated,” Materio countered. “You cheated. You ran an illegal committee which lied about me and my family. Now I want to face my accusers. Disclose their names.”
Materio, co-owner of McMow’s Art Glass, her family’s company, has been recovering from brain surgery she underwent shortly after the election to remove a benign tumor. She returned to work a few weeks ago and has occasionally attended city commission meetings as a member of the public. She is considering a run for mayor in 2019.
Asnani is one of the county’s go-to political consultants. He has worked for West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, City Commissioners Keith James and Paula Ryan, former city commissioner Sylvia Moffett, late commissioner Bill Moss, Judicial Candidate Michael McAuliffe and former Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, among many others, including U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, when she ran for governor of South Carolina.
Materio’s complaints allege that businesses and individuals contributed to Asnani companies “with the assurance their contributions would not be revealed because there was no intent to report the contributions.” Those companies transferred money to Newgent’s company, a political organization known as an electioneering communications organization, or ECO, the complaints said.
The complaints’ intent is to find out who contributed and how much, and how the money was distributed, Materio said in a prepared statement.
“The citizens of West Palm Beach and the public in general, have a right to know who is spending tens of thousands of dollars to influence an election. What corporations opened their checkbooks with unlimited funds, thinking they would go unreported and undisclosed?”
“These corporations Asnani set up aren’t businesses of any kind,” said Richard Giorgio, president of Patriot Games, another of the county’s most active political consultants, who did not work for Materio or Lambert in the election. “They have no employees, don’t generate any revenues. They’re simply being used to shield money from the public. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are going into these corporations and the money goes to political committees. So they’re skirting state statutes by hiding contributions….”
Asnani and Newgent pointed blame back at Materio. “Ms. Materio used a campaign committee that was established in the month of February 2018, just one month before the election, and ran $23,000 in donations through the entity to help her campaign while hiding the donors,” Asnani said. “Prior to that, Materio used a different political committee to send out a mailing that is being investigated by the Florida Elections Commission for potential illegal donations.”
Newgent, for his part, filed complaints about a series of alleged misfilings and a missed deadline regarding Materio’s campaign documentation.
Materio responded Friday afternoon that the $23,000 to which Asnani alluded was collected “through a legitimate and legally constituted committee, regulated by Florida election law and compliant with the required reporting regulations.” She provided names and amounts for all donors and said they were always publicly available.
“My campaign made a reporting mistake…,” she said. “Asnani has intentionally conspired to violate the law by hiding donors from the public. Hundreds of thousands of dollars. Donors were told the names and corporations would not be disclosed. If he denies he told donors they would not be disclosed, then he needs to publish the names as campaign law requires….
“I am now calling upon Commissioner Lambert to join me in calling for Mr. Asnani and his Cornerstone friends to disclose what business entities and individuals gave the secret funds.”