Friday, May 5, 2023

Alabama-based Matrix LLC, and founder Joe Perkins, were in the midst of Florida's "ghost candidate" scandal, which helped Democrats lose state seats

Joe Perkins

Tax records show Montgomery, Alabama-based consulting firm Matrix LLC was in the midst of Florida's "ghost candidate" scandal, according to a report at the Orlando Sentinel. Writes reporter Annie Martin:

A Florida Chamber of Commerce affiliate in 2020 paid nearly half a million dollars to a political consulting firm whose operatives played a key role in Florida’s “ghost” candidate scandal, surveilled a Jacksonville journalist, and secretly gained control of a Tallahassee-based news site, tax records show.

IRS forms show Secure Florida’s Future, which is chaired by Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson, paid $470,000 in 2020 to Alabama-based Matrix LLC. And the next year, Secure Florida’s Future transferred $2 million to a dark-money nonprofit organization linked to the Montgomery firm.

The Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a watchdog group, obtained the tax records and shared them with the Orlando Sentinel. Matrix and its founder, Joe Perkins, have for months been at the heart of the burgeoning accounting-fraud scandal at Atlanta-based Southern Company.

Perkins, so far, has not been anxious to comment on the latest revelations, Martin reports:

Ivette Faulkner, the chamber’s executive vice president of strategic communication and marketing, said the payment to Matrix was “non-political” and intended “to educate Floridians on issues that impact Florida’s economic and job growth,” but declined to elaborate.

Secure Florida’s Future spent more than $8.5 million in 2020 and 2021, according to tax documents. Nonprofit dark-money organizations like Secure Florida’s Future are required to disclose their contributions publicly, but not their contributors.

Joe Perkins, Matrix’s owner, did not respond to an email this week asking about what services the firm performed for Secure Florida’s Future.

The Orlando Sentinel and other media outlets have reported extensively over the past 18 months about how Matrix employees used a variety of tactics to sway elections across Florida, resist citizen efforts to reshape the state Constitution, and advance the interests of powerful corporations.

The efforts were revealed in a series of leaked documents, including emails, bank records and internal reports from the firm. The records showed Matrix employees worked closely with executives at Florida Power & Light (FPL) over a period of several years.

Matrix operatives secretly acquired control of a Tallahassee-based political news site, The Capitolist, and gave executives influence over the site’s coverage. Employees also had a Jacksonville journalist covertly monitored after he wrote critically about FPL.

When FPL was seeking to acquire Jacksonville’s public utility, JEA, Matrix operatives arranged a job offer in 2019 meant to lure a critic of the deal to leave the City Council.

And Matrix operatives also funded a dark-money ad campaign promoting “ghost” candidates in three key 2020 Florida Senate races against progressives, in an apparent scheme to siphon votes away from the Democrats in each race and help Republicans win.

The defeated candidates included former Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, one of FPL’s most prominent critics in the legislature who had drawn the personal ire of the utility’s CEO, Eric Silagy. “I want you to make his life a living hell….seriously,” Silagy wrote in a leaked 2019 email to two of his vice presidents, one of whom forwarded it to former Matrix CEO Jeff Pitts.

Secure Florida’s Future seeks to educate “the citizens of Florida about economic job growth,” according to the organization’s documents.

But the public needs only to look at Matrix’s track record to infer why the Chamber-backed group wanted to hire them, said Michael Barfield, director of public-access initiatives for the Florida Center for Government Accountability, a Sarasota-based watchdog group. The Chamber’s nonprofit aims to “empower corporations,” he said, and Matrix was well-suited to help them accomplish that goal.

“I think that really gets to the heart of the issue,” Barfield said. “The amount of dark money spending by corporate interests has exploded.”

The 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission case, which enabled corporations and other outside groups to spend unlimited money on elections, was a “tragedy” Barfield said, because it allows businesses to exert enormous influence over the political process.

“Dark money takes power away from the people and until there’s meaningful change, corporations will have all the muscle,” Barfield said.

No comments: