Torrens Rebuts Opponent's Frivolous Lawsuit
Raises Primary Challenger’s Past Campaign Finance Violations
Last week, my primary opponent made the decision to file a frivolous lawsuit against my campaign in an attempt to win this election through the courts rather than the ballot box. In this case, his decision to suddenly transform what had been a positive campaign by using our courts as a political attack weapon was off-target – factually and even as a matter of basic decency. As he will now see (and could have learned if he’d only had the decency to ask before attacking):
• The innocent individual whose alleged contribution he targeted is my wife;
• The check he cited was drawn on our joint account;
• So the bottom line is this was a case in which my money was being transferred to my campaign;
• And as all candidates know, there is no limit on the amount a candidate is allowed to spend on his or her own campaign.
My primary opponent’s desperate shift to attack-politics is the same old political game-playing that disgusts Florida voters of both parties and independents. In this case, what Florida Democrats will find especially troubling is that this low-road attack is frankly beneath what we all expected from my primary opponent, given his career of public service and his family’s historic service to our state.
While I have been proud to run a positive campaign focusing on the problems and solutions that Floridians care about most – and will continue to do so – his frivolous and factually false lawsuit, which seems intended mainly to confuse voters, requires that we set the record straight, at once.
First and most importantly, my opponent’s lawsuit cites a check bearing the signature of “Francesca Yabraian” – but the suit doesn’t note the two most important facts about the check: (1) Francesca is my wife; she often accompanies me to campaign events and I’m honored and proud to introduce her to voters; (2) the check is drawn on the joint account my wife and I maintain at a credit union.
The reason we decided to transfer the funds from our joint credit union account to our campaign is because we make no secret of the fact that we were starting the campaign knowing we would trail others in early finance totals. As I tell people at every campaign stop, I am the only candidate running for Attorney General in either party who has promised to not accept any money from any big corporate special interests. So yes, at the outset, we knew we’d be trailing the candidates who were accepting corporate special interest financing. Our initial idea was to transfer our personal money to the campaign and call it a loan to help us pay the qualifying fee. All candidates are permitted to provide their own campaigns with contributions and loans in excess of the $3,000 limit that applies to funds from other individuals.
Second – to prove the honesty and good faith of our intentions – we were our own whistle-blower! As soon as we discovered our error, our campaign submitted correspondence to the state’s Division of Elections that the check bearing Francesca’s signature put her over the allowable $3,000 limits. So we reported to the election officials that we had taken it upon ourselves to refund the excess portion to her. To repeat: This was done before the Florida Elections Commission complaint was filed by an individual named Max Solomon and before my primary opponent filed his lawsuit against my campaign.
We took the corrective action because we felt it was important to do the right thing and demonstrate that our campaign trail is always the high-road. It should also be noted that so far, we have received no determination of any violations from the FEC or even a finding of probable cause. In fact, we still haven’t even received our formal copy of the FEC complaint. Our information on this has been what we have learned from the news media.
But if my primary opponent wants to focus on what our campaign did that was erroneous, I’ll now shine my spotlight on it for him. First, I made one small, inadvertent error that could have avoided this entire problem: I could have simply added my signature to my wife’s on that check –and that would have accomplished our same goal (of shifting our funds from our joint account to our campaign’s account) in an error-free, perfectly legal way. That’s why my primary opponent’s allegation in his suit is false when he claims our campaign didn’t have the funds to pay our qualifying fee. We indeed had the funds; but yes, I made that honest mistake. And yes, I’m kicking myself about that technicality that my opponent has taken advantage of by filing a distorting, low-road lawsuit.
Out of an abundance of caution, after realizing the error, our campaign refunded to my wife the portion that exceeded the $3,000 amount that an individual is allowed to contribute to a candidate. So nothing with her name attached would be in excess of $3,000. Also, being cautious, we also re-classified all the funds with Francesca’s name on them to being, not a loan, but a contribution.
Our campaign also made one other inadvertent error: In notifying the state election officials one of our correspondences called Francesca’s check a “cashier’s check” – that’s a bank check that is treated as cash. It was never that; it was a personal check from our joint account. We corrected the mistake as soon as we spotted it.
But now there is one other matter that now needs to be spotlighted as well. And while I had vowed to conduct a positive campaign that stresses only our problems and solutions, the lawsuit attack filed by my primary opponent requires that I put his actions into their full historic context. I’m doing that mainly to illustrate contrasts that can help voters measure our records in dealing with state election rule missteps when they compare us as potential attorneys general. Florida state records show my primary opponent handled a series of previous campaign finance violations in a manner which can be contrasted with our campaign’s performance in this 2018 contest.
My campaign is now making available a series of records dating back to 2013 as to the way my primary opponent handled a series of campaign finance violations levied against him concerning his 2016 campaign for state representative, the office he presently holds. The documents show my opponent repeatedly ignored correspondence and telephone calls from the Division of Elections. State officials documented their many attempts, noted his failures to respond, and referred the matter to the Florida Elections Commission for investigation. The FEC issued a finding that there was probable cause that my opponent had committed campaign finance violations. And it was only then that my present primary opponent agreed to rectify the past violations and pay a $150 fee. No one filed a lawsuit to try to force him out of the race. He was elected to the state representative’s seat he now holds.
I never intended to make my opponent’s past FEC record a part of our 2018 campaign, because I hoped to focus solely on the problems and solutions Floridians care about most. But now that my primary opponent chose to try to file a lawsuit using false allegations as a weapon to challenge my integrity, and even the integrity of my wife – all as a weapon to try to force me out of the race – I have no choice but to aggressively stay the course and respond not with allegations, but just by making his record available.
For many months, we have asked our primary challenger to participate in a series of primary debates. I believe that, in our finest democratic tradition, the voters deserve no less than to see the two of us debate our respective visions for the future of the attorney general’s office. Our invitation letter is provided here. It is unfortunate that my opponent has not even responded to our inquiries about having these debates.
If my primary opponent had been willing to respond to my debate invitations by calling me even once, perhaps he could have simply asked me about that $4,000 check – so I could have explained it all to him. Unfortunately, he chose his low-road lawsuit attack strategy; it is one that many of our state’s respected Democrats will surely view as something we all might have expected during a name-calling Trump primary race, but not a campaign among Florida Democrats.
I’ll still be campaigning in every one of Florida’s 67 counties, running on my platform of not taking any big corporate special interest money – and not being beholden to any of the special interests I will have to oversee as attorney general. Always optimistic, I remain hopeful my opponent will agree to debate the issues openly with me so we can allow an informed electorate to choose their next attorney general in our August 28th Democratic primary.
Torrens has been campaigning across the State of Florida, all the while fighting for his clients as a consumer protection lawyer. He says that he is running to put the Attorney General’s office back on the side of consumers again.
You can find more about Ryan Torrens and his campaign at www.RyanTorrens.com.