[credit provider=”Democratic National Committee”]
The story sounds familiar. One address. A handful of employees. Millions in campaign dollars.In suburban Tampa, a single-story building at 610 South Blvd. is home to countless political committees in Florida and all over the country, and is known as a veritable political action committee mill. A similar story lies in Miramar, where two doctors — Paul Zimmerman and Gerald Glass — run dozens of companies that, altogether, have funneled more than $3 million into state political campaigns and committees in recent years.
According to the Florida Department of State’s Division of Corporations, Zimmerman is listed as a manager of 42 companies, while Glass is listed as a manager at 29, some of which are now defunct. At least 19 of those companies are registered to both men. Nearly all are registered to the same address and, according to our maths, their political donations total $3,224,076 since 2002.
According to the Florida Department of Health’s medical licence database, both Zimmerman (a Mitt Romney finance team member) and Glass are physicians; Zimmerman is listed as Glass’ “supervising practitioner.”
Automated Healthcare might be the most significant of the men’s companies. Last year, it played a large role in the battle over a bill that would ban doctors from dispensing pain medications from their office. The company sued a blogger who accused Automated Healthcare of profiting from what he called Florida’s unusually expensive workers’ compensation program.
Automated Healthcare gave almost $2 million to campaigns, committees and the Republican Party of Florida in 2010 and 2011.
Another company registered to Zimmerman and Glass, Green Solar Transportation, is more mysterious. According to its website, Green Solar makes “Power Solutions” that use solar energy to help recharge 18-wheeler batteries. The company’s website is registered to an employee with an Automated Healthcare email address.
State Division of Elections documents show that Green Solar gave $557,000 in campaign contributions to Florida political committees in 2010, including $100,000 to Rick Scott’s 527, Let’s Get to Work; $200,000 to the Freedom First Committee, Florida Senate President Mike Haridopolos’ 527; and $200,000 to the Florida Liberty Fund, House Speaker Dean Cannon’s 527. That same year, another company registered to Zimmerman and Glass, Durable Medical, also gave to Florida Liberty and Freedom First — $150,000 each.
In addition to the dozens of companies with which Zimmerman and Glass are associated, the two are also mentioned on the website of NuVerus Life, an organic health drink (and apparent multi-level service company) that retails for $59.99 a bottle.
According to the NuVerus website, Zimmerman and Glass were brought on board to “develop a system that maximized software technology to encourage massive international growth.” And though the site says that NuVerus is a “highly funded, ingenious Social Marketing and Professional Marketing company,” its website offers no phone number.
Among its contact information is a link to the Facebook page of a man who has no apparent connection to the product. In fact, the website doesn’t appear to have been updated since 2009. According to the state campaign finance database, NuVerus has donated $1,500 to political campaigns since 2009.
Other companies registered to the men include Zimmerman Capital, Innovative Pharmaceutical and Boys From Dover. According to state campaign records, Boys From Dover contributed $7,500 to candidates and committees in Florida in 2010, but it is unclear what the company does — it has no website we could find.
The political clout of Zimmerman and Glass extends beyond Florida. In October 2011, Zimmerman was named a member of Mitt Romney’s Florida finance team. Zimmerman donated $2,500 to Romney that September.
The legality of campaign donations given by a variety of companies is somewhat murky.
In total, companies associated with Glass and Zimmerman donated $5,000 to state Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Wellington, all on the same day: Sept. 30, 2010. According to state campaign records, Abruzzo received 10 donations of $500 each from companies located at 2901 S.W. 149th Ave. in Miramar — the same address as Automated Healthcare.
According to the state Division of Elections, if the entities are legally recognised under corporate law as separate entities (as Zimmerman and Glass’ are), then each entity can give the maximum contribution. But Tallahassee attorney Mark Herron says companies should not be formed for the sole purpose of giving to political campaigns.
“The companies should have their own sources of income that they generate from their business activities,” says Herron. “You can’t put money into a corporation for the purposes of magnifying your ability to give more than one campaign activity.”
University of Florida Political Science Professor Daniel Smith says that, even if they are legal, the donations given by Zimmerman and Glass “certainly raise some questions.”
“This type of activity casts real doubt on the effectiveness of the contribution limits on candidates for state office of Florida,” Smith says, adding that “the shell game is often played through political parties.”
Determining what constitutes a shell company is nearly impossible. Because they are operating on a for-profit basis, access to company tax returns — and their sources of revenue — is restricted by law.
In a recent case, a former executive at Bain Capital (a private equity firm founded by Romney) formed a shell company just long enough to pump $1 million into Romney’s 2012 White House campaign before the company was closed down. Two campaign watchdog groups filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Department of Justice, seeking an investigation into the donations.
The laws governing campaign donations vary, according to the recipient. By Florida law, companies can give a maximum donation of $500 to an individual candidate, per election. But companies can give unlimited funds to political committees organised to support or oppose issues. Donations made to political parties are also unlimited.
So why would someone funnel donations to one party through multiple companies, if donations are unlimited? Though Smith calls that an “oddity,” he says it could be done to make it appear that the Republican Party is receiving a broader base of contributions than it actually is.
But the key to political influence, says Smith, is “directing money to leadership-controlled entities,” or political committees.
Running funds through political committees allows the candidate to steer those monies as they see fit, unlike donations made to a particular party. Especially since the arrest of Republican Party of Florida head Jim Greer, many candidates would prefer money be given directly to their committees, rather than the party because, simply put, they might not trust the party.
When we contacted Zimmerman and Glass for comment on this story, we were put in touch with Automated Healthcare’s spokesperson, who had this to say: “AHCS’s founders take pride in participating in America’s electoral process. They will continue to support the candidates whose leadership and ideas they believe in at every level of government.”
The Romney campaign also declined to respond. But during a recent debate, Romney was vocal about the use of power and money to influence the political process. “Here’s why it’s a problem,” he said. “If you’re getting paid by health companies … that can benefit from a piece of legislation, and you then meet with Republican congressmen and encourage them to support that legislation, you can call it whatever you like. I call it influence peddling.”