TALLAHASSEE, FL – Today, Integrity Florida is releasing a new research report examining the use of so-called “ghost candidates” in Florida elections. More specifically the report examines how ghost candidates are used to manipulate and meddle in those elections.
The report, titled “Ghost Candidates”: How They Manipulate (and sometimes steal) Florida Elections, details how ghost candidates have been used to manipulate elections for more than 20 years. Ghost candidates have been used in elections since the year 2000 to “close” primary elections that should be open to all voters, regardless of party affiliation.
Most recently, ghost candidates were used to siphon votes in three state Senate races in 2020. In one of those races, the ghost candidate clearly changed the outcome.
“Politics is a blood sport,” said Ben Wilcox, Integrity Florida Research Director. “But using ghost candidates to meddle in those three Senate elections crossed the legal and moral line.”
The report finds that in the race for Senate District 37, incumbent Democratic Senator José Javier Rodríguez lost to his Republican challenger by just over 30 votes. A ghost candidate with the same last name who did not campaign yet was the beneficiary of a dark money advertising, received over 6,000 votes. Clearly, the ghost candidate in the race received a significant number of votes, indicating that the candidate successfully siphoned votes away from the incumbent, causing him to lose the election.
The report also details how Florida’s largest utility company, Florida Power and Light (FPL), provided “dark money” funding for the ghost candidate scheme in the Senate District 37 race and, along with its Alabama-based political consulting firm Matrix, was actively involved in the strategic planning to carry out the scheme. The report adds Integrity Florida’s voice to others calling on the Department of Justice to investigate FPL’s involvement in the ghost candidate scheme.
“This company, Florida Power and Light, is not acting like a good corporate citizen,” said Wilcox. “In what I think is a cynical take on democracy, Florida Power and Light thinks it’s a good political strategy to try to mislead and confuse voters. It’s really a crime against democracy.”
The Integrity Florida report offers a series of key findings and policy options for consideration:
Key Findings Include:
- So called “ghost candidates” have a more than 20-year history in Florida, but in the 2020 election cycle the use of three ghost candidates to siphon votes in three state senate races crossed the legal line to become a criminal form of voter fraud.
- Florida’s largest utility company Florida Power and Light (FPL) provided “dark money” funding for the ghost candidate scheme and, along with its Alabama-based political consulting firm Matrix, was actively involved in the strategic planning to carry out the scheme.
- The ghost candidate scheme worked as intended in at least one 2020 race for Senate District 37, where the incumbent Democratic Senator lost to his Republican challenger by a little over 30 votes. The ghost candidate in the race, with the same last name as the Democratic candidate, received over 6,000 votes, many of which were clearly siphoned due to misinformation and voter confusion. The ghost candidate did no campaigning for the seat but was the beneficiary of ads run by an outside political committee promoting the ghost candidate as a “progressive.”
- In August of 2022, long-time Tampa Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Castor called on the Department of Justice to investigate Florida Power and Light’s use of “dark money” to manipulate elections in Florida. While it’s not clear whether such an investigation is taking place, Integrity Florida believes a DOJ investigation into FPL’s involvement in the ghost candidate scheme is justified.
- While the term “ghost candidate” was first applied to the candidates in the three 2020 state Senate races, there have been similar “spoiler” candidates in state and local races going back to the 2000 election. Write-in candidates exploit a loophole in a requirement in the Florida constitution that primary elections be open to all voters if the primary will decide the winner of the race.
Policy Options to Consider:
- Redesign Florida’s campaign finance regulations with a goal of ensuring maximum transparency and accountability and eliminating so-called “dark money” that uses the federal tax code to hide the sources of campaign funding.
- Prohibit transfers of money between political committees.
- Expressly prohibit the use of paid “ghost candidates.”
- Eliminate the option to file as a write-in candidate without paying a filing fee or gathering a required number of petitions.
- Require primaries to be open to all voters if the only candidates on the ballot are from one political party, regardless of whether there is a write-in candidate in the race.
To read the report Click HERE.
©Integrity Florida. All rights reserved.