What might have been a smooth ride to Congress for Donna Shalala is instead turning into a demolition derby.
In an open Florida congressional seat that represents one of the party’s best pickup chances in the nation, fellow Democrats are bashing the former Clinton administration Cabinet secretary, accusing her of collaborating with the enemy by contributing to Republican candidates.
Two of Shalala’s seven primary opponents joined together Thursday to criticize her for personally contributing $21,500 to Florida Republicans running for state, local and federal offices over the past decade — including the GOP congresswoman, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who held the seat before announcing her retirement this year.
“It was so jarring and so disappointing to see the newest candidate in the Democratic primary, Donna Shalala, has donated to the Republican incumbent last cycle, has donated in the past to the current Republican running for congress in this very congressional seat, has donated over $20,000 to anti-choice, anti-LGBT, pro-NRA, Republican politicians, and has donated $20,000 to a corporate PAC that has given $125,000 to the NRCC — an organizations whose sole goal is to keep a Republican majority, and Paul Ryan as speaker,” retired Circuit Judge Mary Barzee Flores and state Rep. David Richardson said in a joint statement from which each read consecutive passages during a conference call with reporters.
Richardson and Barzee Flores pointed out that the PAC for the Shalala-affiliated company MEDNAX gave $4,875 to Sen. Marco Rubio in 2016. Also, Shalala had personally contributed $500 in 2009 to Rubio’s friend, scandal-plagued former Congressman David Rivera, when he was in the state House, as well as another $500 in 2011 to former state Sen. Frank Artiles, who in 2017 resigned his seat after using racially charged language.
The two Democrats demanded that Shalala explain the Republican contributions, apologize to the Democrats who faced the Republican challengers to whom Shalala contributed and said she needed to contribute the equivalent amount — about $41,000, including the PAC money — to the Miami-Dade Democratic Party.
Shalala’s campaign couldn’t be reached for comment. But when asked Wednesday about her campaign contributions to Republicans, her adviser Fernand Amandi pointed out that the longtime party stalwart had contributed far more money, $278,000, to Democrats and liberal groups during her decades in politics.
Separately, another Democratic candidate, Miami Beach City Commissioner Kristen Rosen-Gonzalez, took a shot at Shalala by releasing a jokey video on Twitter last week that criticized her as “Donna Walmarta” for selling a parcel of environmentally sensitive UM land to developers who plan to build a WalMart.
The multi-directional incoming fire underscores Shalala’s frontrunner status in Florida’s 27th Congressional District. Independently wealthy, Shalala has earned decades worth of name ID and Democratic chits as the former Clinton Foundation executive director, a former University of Miami president and as President Clinton’s former health and human services secretary.
No other Republican-held congressional seat in the nation voted for Hillary Clinton by such a wide margin over President Trump, 19.6 percentage points.
Richardson and Barzee Flores aren’t the only Democrats aggrieved over Shalala’s past contributions. After Shalala’s campaign reached out to Scott Fuhrman — who ran unsuccessfully against Ros-Lehtinen — for a contribution, he impolitely declined with the expletive acronym, “GFY.” His issue: Shalala failed to contribute to him after donating to Ros-Lehtinen in 2016.
Fuhrman then contacted two of his former consultants, Ben Pollara and Eric Johnson, who respectively now work for Barzee Flores and Richardson. They got to work ganging up on Shalala.
Shalala’s campaign said she’s staying positive and began an earlier-than-usual ad buy this week to emphasize her experience.
When asked by a reporter if they ever contributed to a Republican, Richardson — the first openly gay state House member — said he recalled giving $250 to an LGBT Massachusetts Republican whose name he couldn’t remember. Barzee Flores said she couldn’t remember any, but state records show she gave $100 to Republican attorney general candidate Lock Burte in 2001.
“I can tell you one thing for sure,” Barzee Flores said, “I’m not going to be making campaign contributions to the likes of David Rivera and Frank Artiles.”