FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla – Sheila Cherfilus-McCormick, a never-elected candidate, wants a congressional seat in South Florida so badly that she has injected more than $ 2.3 million of her own money into the campaign.
The figure is staggering. That’s $ 1 million more than seven other Democratic candidates combined have raised – and more than any other congressional candidate in the country has put into their own campaign in the first six months of 2021.
And, Cherfilus-McCormick said in a phone interview, she is prepared to invest more – up to an additional $ 1 million – if necessary.
“I’m not trying to buy a seat at all,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. “I never played the political game of trying to buy people or anything. It’s always been a ground game and a people-centric campaign. But… I knew other campaigns were going to take money from different donors and lobbyists.
The source and extent of Cherfilus-McCormick’s wealth is unclear. The Miramar resident is CEO of Trinity Health Care Services, a home care agency also based in Miramar. Cherfilus-McCormick has not filed the financial information required by law that shows the income, assets and liabilities of a candidate.
Trinity Health Care Services received $ 2.4 million from the federal paycheck protection program, according to publicly available databases, including one maintained by investigative news organization ProPublica.
Cherfilus-McCormick said there was absolutely no connection between the money she gave to her campaign and the company she runs receiving federal aid. “There is nothing dishonest about me,” she said.
Cherfilus-McCormick is running to represent the 20th Congressional District of Broward-Palm Beach County, one of the poorest congressional districts in the country, with a median household income well below that of the state and the country .
The post was created by the death on April 6 of longtime Congressman Alcee Hastings, but Cherfilus-McCormick had already challenged him twice in the Democratic primaries and decided to run again before his death.
The 20th arrondissement is so overwhelmingly democratic that the winner of the party’s primary on November 2 is almost guaranteed to win the special elections on January 11.
“I don’t believe money wins campaigns,” Cherfilus-McCormick said. But its self-financing stands out.
OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics, liked 355 active House candidates who raised $ 250,000 or more from all sources in the first six months of 2021, senior researcher Douglas Weber said.
In contrast, only 11 candidates in the country invested $ 250,000 or more of their own money in their campaigns from Jan. 1 to June 30. Cherfilus-McCormick’s $ 2.3 million makes her by far the biggest self-fundraiser. Republican Steve Fanelli is in second place, putting a total of $ 645,000 into his Pennsylvania congressional campaign.
For the entire 2019-2020 electoral cycle for the entire US House of Representatives, which has 435 members, OpenSecrets reported that seven candidates spent more than the $ 2.3 million Cherfilus-McCormick has put in his race.
“She would hardly be the first wealthy person to use this wealth to make a viable candidate,” said Kevin Wagner, political scientist at Florida Atlantic University. “Sometimes if you are not known, personal wealth can be the most viable way to establish yourself in the race.”
Money does not guarantee success. Of the seven major self-financiers of the 2020 House races, three won and four lost.
“It’s an incredible amount of money,” said Jacob Rubashkin, analyst at the Washington, DC-based non-partisan Inside Elections newsletter.
Assuming she actually spends the money – sometimes candidates put in money for attention and don’t spend it – this will have a bigger impact on this year’s special election than it does. would in 2020, Rubashkin said, because there is no competition for attention in the presidential and other elections.
Also of note: the $ 2.3 million is far more than what the campaign suggested a few weeks before it invested most of the money. A May 5 press release announcing an event at a campaign office in Sunrise said Cherfilus-McCormick “expects to spend over $ 1 million in this competitive race.”
Cherfilus-McCormick, who is 42 and has a law degree, said she has the money to spend on her campaign. “I am the CEO. I’ve been working in this capacity for over 10 years, so it’s my personal fund, ”she said.
She failed to file the required financial disclosure reports under government ethics law after a federal candidate raised or spent $ 5,000. The Federal Election Commission tells candidates to follow rules published by the House Ethics Committee.
“We will table this,” she said. “I know we are preparing our documents for this.
Besides public attention, there is a downside for applicants to file documents, so some do not. The financial disclosure portal maintained by the House Clerk shows that Cherfilus-McCormick, who unsuccessfully challenged Hastings in the 2018 and 2020 Democratic primaries, did not file a disclosure for any of those campaigns, despite having requested two extensions of the deadline in 2018.
Among the other primary contenders to succeed Hastings, Bobby DuBose, Elvin Dowling, Barbara Sharief and Priscilla Taylor have filed disclosure reports. Dale Holness has requested an extension. Omari Hardy and Perry Thurston have not filed a case, according to records.
The large sum of money makes people in the political world watch his campaign, which they had not done before.
“It’s the only thing that would make people watch the campaign,” she said. “This is the unfortunate nature of politics. We are still the same, still from the grassroots. But money automatically makes people watch it.
The money allowed Cherfilus-McCormick to build a strong campaign sooner than the other candidates.
As of June 30, the reporting period’s end, she had already spent more on her campaign – $ 367,664 – than any other candidate had collected, for hiring staff, from an SMS service ( $ 11,000 in June alone), digital advertising and video production.
And she bought TV commercials.
AdImpact, a company that tracks ad buys, said Cherfilus-McCormick spent $ 27,417 on cable TV ads in Broward and Palm Beach counties in June. In July, according to AdImpact figures, it more than doubled its spending on cable and added TV channels to the Miami-Fort Lauderdale TV market. She booked a total of $ 75,355 of advertising time for July.
“If you are a candidate who is not already well known in the district, early television can help you, because you want to shape the perception of you as a candidate and make it known to as many people as possible,” Wagner said. . .
Reports filed in July with the Federal Election Commission show that Cherfilus-McCormick loaned his campaign a total of $ 2,310,007 in the quarter that ended June 30.
Candidates typically do not donate directly to their campaigns, but instead invest the money in the form of a loan, which allows for the possibility of it being repaid. Sometimes this happens; often not.
Fundraising from other sources brought in a total of $ 99,401 in the three months ended June 30, a figure that would place her in the mid-tier category of candidates for the seat. Cherfilus-McCormick was a candidate for the entire term; most of the other candidates entered the race in the middle of the quarter, after Hastings’ death.
The other seven Democratic candidates who said they raised and spent money in the second quarter raised a combined total of $ 916,000.
Cherfilus-McCormick is not the only self-financing candidate in the 20th arrondissement.
Campaign fundraising records show Sharief, currently Broward County Commissioner and owner of South Florida Pediatric Homecare, has invested $ 230,000 in his campaign through June 30. (Like Cherfilus-McCormick, Sharief had decided to run for the seat of Congress before Hastings died.) Thurston, a senator and lawyer from the state of Broward, loaned $ 100,500 to his campaign.
Sharief said she was not deterred by the financial advantage of Cherfilus-McCormick. “Money has never won races,” she said. “You can invest money in a race, but it’s about getting your message out. “
Holness, also the current Broward County commissioner, declined to discuss funding for Cherfilus-McCormick. ” We are well. The countryside is doing well. We are going to work hard and we are going to outdo everyone. OK? ”He said.
In 2018, the first time Cherfilus-McCormick challenged Hastings in the Democratic primary, she won 26% of the vote. In 2020, she got 31% of the vote against Hastings.
Cherfilus-McCormick said these campaigns were a serious effort to get to Congress, not an attempt to gain campaign experience and build brand awareness.
For the current race, a website promoting the “People’s Prosperity Plan” and Cherfilus-McCormick’s, features a large block of typeface proclaiming “$ 1,000 PER MONTH FOR YOU”.
The plan would cost, by the candidate’s own estimate, $ 2.2 trillion. This is equivalent to what the Congressional Budget Office estimates that all personal and corporate income taxes will total in the current fiscal year.
Cherfilus-McCormick said she would start paying for the program with a $ 400 billion “automation tax” on employers who cut jobs because they switch to automation and a “tax on automation.” data “of $ 200 billion on private information sales.
The dots on the website also suggest a $ 1,000 billion value-added tax, which would work like a national sales tax; a $ 300 billion “wealth tax” and a $ 250 billion carbon tax, the emissions of which contribute to global climate change.
While it is extremely unlikely that the proposal will become law, it is the sort of thing that might gain the support of some voters, said Kevin Wagner, a political scientist at Florida Atlantic University.
Cherfilus-McCormick dismisses questions as to whether this has any chance of coming true. She highlighted the temporary monthly payments that have just started to flow to families with children.
“There have been other opponents, other candidates who say that I am selling a pipe dream. But that’s just going to show you why our district is in poverty, ”she said. “I’m the only one who has the audacity to dream differently and do something different. But that’s how I succeeded in my personal life. So I am not afraid to put forward a bold policy.