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The Mayor's Outlaw Ball

Ah, the mayor's gala.

Broward Mayor Ken Keechl is set to enjoy his big party on October 2 at the Signature Grand in Davie. It's a time for Broward's top politician to solicit donations from lobbyists and special interests to pay for a giant party where pols and influence peddlers can eat, drink, and dance together. Last year's event set a new low as Stacy Ritter's party at the Seminole Hard Rock was chiefly underwritten by a $50,000 donation from Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein. And they say Stacy really cut a rug during that shindig.

This year, it comes at a time when ethics reform is the top issue in Broward Town. The kind of schmoozing between politicians and lobbyists that goes on at the mayor's gala is a spit in the face of those efforts.

But the big problem this year isn't just that the event is sleazy. That isn't news. It's that Keechl's gala is very likely illegal on its face.

What could possibly turn a fete into a felony, you ask? Well, the party is being hosted by the 

United Way of Broward County (surely you've seen that ridiculous Mayor's Gala billboard on the side of I-95). The United Way is nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization. That means it has tax-exempt status from the government. One of the rules tax-exempt nonprofits must follow is that they in no way endorse -- directly or indirectly -- any candidate running for office. To read up on this rule and get an understanding of just how serious it is, click here.

Keechl, of course, is facing a challenge from Chip LaMarca right now. The gala comes just 30 days before the election.

Hosting a fundraiser honoring Keechl at the height of the campaign is a partisan event and would certainly be perceived as a type of endorsement for the mayor, right? Well, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation thinks so. That nonprofit organization was set to honor politicians Dan Gelber and Allen West on September 24 but thought better of it when it realized it would be a violation of its tax-exempt status because both politicians are running for office. From the statement the foundation made when it canceled the event:  

As a 501(c)(3) organization, the Foundation must adhere to federal and state laws, and is prohibited from supporting, opposing, endorsing -- or in any way implying endorsement of -- any candidate running for office.

We recently learned that our South Florida office had plans to honor two candidates running for office at an event called South Florida's Finest Couples on September 24, 2010. The candidates are State Senator Dan Gelber (D), and Lt. Col. Allen West (R). 

After assessing the situation, we determined that honoring these candidates during the campaign season could be construed as an endorsement. We regret the decision to invite them as honorees so close to the election. 

We have asked Sen. Gelber and Lt. Col. West to step down as honorees, and they agreed to do so.

For the record, I think Gelber and West do indeed make a fine couple (I smell sitcom here), but the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation definitely made the right decision. And the unavoidable conclusion is that the United Way should follow suit, unless it wants an IRS investigation.

I contacted the United Way and am awaiting a response from its CEO (and North Broward Hospital District commissioner), Jennifer O'Flannery Anderson. I'll update as soon as I hear.

One more thing while I'm on the topic of Keechl's gala. In addition to the United Way, the event is set to raise money for a few other charities, including Angelo Castillo's Broward House, the Pride Center of Equality Park, and H.O.M.E.S. All of those charities too might be guilty of violating federal and state laws if they honor Keechl on October 2. That's a big part of these things too, to make the mayor a big shot in various organizations (remember how Ilene Lieberman got dirty developers Bruce and Shawn Chait to donate $25,000 to her favorite charity, the Transplant Foundation?).

The most interesting choice Keechl made on the charities, though, is H.O.M.E.S., which works to provide home ownership to low-income folks. Guess who sits on that board? Ken Keechl's domestic (and real estate) partner, Ted Adcock.

Again, in these times, when so many politicians are under investigation, indicted, or imprisoned, it's surprising just how blatant and in-your-face these dais-sitters continue to be.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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