Former Republican Congressman David Rivera has gone to a federal appeals court after being hit with a $456,000 fine in a case involving allegations he secretly funneled money to try to undermine a Democratic rival.
Rivera, of Miami, filed a notice last week that is a first step in asking the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to take up the case. The move came after U.S. District Judge Marcia Cooke sided with the Federal Election Commission and ordered the $456,000 fine.
The long-running case stems from Rivera’s 2012 campaign for re-election to Congress. Rivera faced a challenge from Democrat Joe Garcia and was alleged to have provided money to help Justin Sternad, a candidate in the Democratic primary. Garcia ultimately won the primary and defeated Rivera.
The Federal Election Commission alleged that Rivera, who also is a former member of the Florida House, violated a law that bars contributions made in the names of other people.
“The FEC alleges that during the Democratic primary, Rivera executed a scheme to secretly provide funds to Sternad’s campaign to weaken Garcia, who was likely to be Rivera’s general election opponent,” Cooke wrote in a Feb. 23 summary judgment in favor of the federal agency. “In April 2012, Rivera initiated the scheme when he met with his associate, Ana Sol Alliegro and directed her to approach Sternad with an offer to provide financial support to his primary campaign. Alliegro did so, and Sternad accepted the offer. At Rivera’s supposed direction, Alliegro then spent the next few months acting as an intermediary, transmitting funds to Sternad, the Sternad (political) committee and the vendors providing services to that committee.”
In granting summary judgment, Cooke refuted Rivera’s arguments that testimony by Alliegro should be rejected. The South Florida federal judge pointed, in part, to testimony from other people, including Sternad.
“Accordingly, the testimonial evidence in this case establishes that Rivera orchestrated a scheme in which he made unlawful contributions in the name of another to the Sternad campaign for the purpose of undermining Joe Garcia’s campaign,” Cooke wrote. “Rivera accomplished this by using Alliegro and other third parties to make cash payments on behalf of the Sternad campaign. Additionally, the uncontested testimonial evidence adduced in this case shows that Rivera directed Sternad to file false reports with the FEC.”
Cooke, on March 29, entered a final judgment ordering Rivera to pay the fine.
Rivera responded on April 26 by filing a motion asking Cooke to amend or provide “relief” from the judgment, arguing, in part, that the judge should consider whether the penalty violates a constitutional ban on excessive fines. The motion said that “other than generalized harm that is caused by violation of any law, the alleged violations at issue here were low on the harm scale.”
“FEC doesn’t allege that Rivera donated to the Sternad campaign as quid pro quo to obtain political favors from Sternad should he get elected,” Rivera’s attorneys wrote in the motion. “Therefore, the traditional purpose of laws requiring public disclosure of campaign donations is not part of FEC’s claim. Rather, FEC claims Rivera paid for print ads and campaign publications for Sternad (i.e., political junk mail). Other than cluttering the electorate’s mailboxes, this is hardly the kind of in-kind donation that would severely harm the public. Also, Rivera did not win the election after all, and Joe Garcia — the opponent Rivera allegedly feared losing to — did win. So, Rivera did not benefit, and Garcia was not harmed by the alleged violations.”
The notice filed last week at the Atlanta-based appellate court asked that the appeal be held in “abeyance” pending the outcome of the motion before Cooke.