In May 2017 Florida State Senator Daphne Campbell received a Kate Spade handbag stuffed with cash in the closing moments of a fundraiser at the Miami Shores Country Club on the occasion of her 60th birthday.

As first reported by David Smiley in the Miami Herald, neither the gift nor the cash were declared by Senator Campbell. Much attention has focused on the cash – which Campbell claimed was given as “a joke” and was returned to the donor.

But what about the Kate Spade handbag, which Campbell indicates she has kept? Florida law requiring disclosure of gifts given to elected officials worth over $100 by anyone who is not an immediate relative.

Is it even possible that Senator Campbell’s Kate Spade was bag genuinely worth less than the $100 threshold? Fashion-conscious political junkies deserve to know.

The curious case of the Kate Spade handbag

Daphne Cambell Kate Spade bagIt all started at a fundraiser birthday party for Florida State Senator Daphne Campbell, which Senator Campbell’s staff filmed and posted on YouTube. Towards the end of the evening, the Democratic politician was given a Kate Spade designer handbag as a birthday gift by Miami businessman and philanthropist Julio César Alfonso.

Of course, receiving gifts is by no means against the law. But when gifts exceed $100 in value and come from a campaign supporter there is a legal requirement to declare them.

Senator Campbell had a simple explanation about what she referred to as “a purse.” “The purse is not an expensive purse,” she told the Herald. The Herald reporter was (understandably) more focused on the issue of the cash, so it was unclear if Campbell was genuinely claiming the Kate Spade handbag was worth so little.

News Growl emailed Senator Campbell asking for further explanation, but she did not reply.

In the absence of any help from Senator Campbell herself, we have done our best to try and establish the handbag’s true value.

Establishing the price of the Kate Spade handbag

Kate Spade store
Photo: Ralph Daily (CC2.0)

It is true that Kate Spade handbags are not at the super high-end of the price range. The brand is similar to Michael Kors and Coach – a range of brands referred to as “affordable luxury.”

Despite the lower cost, the Kate Spade brand is still a genuinely sought-after, truly New York label. Kate Middleton regularly wears Kate Spade, for example, and is lauded for wearing a more affordable brand rather than Chanel and Prada. The television show Gossip Girl regularly featured Kate Spade purses as well.

Kate Spade handbags of a similar shape and size as Campbell’s are currently on sale at retail price of a minimum of $178. While that might not count as an expensive purse in Senator Campbell’s mind, it does easily break the threshold for reporting required by Florida law.

Here are three possible ways in which, somehow, the handbag could be worth less than its normal retail price.

1. Was the Kate Spade handbag counterfeit?

A possible explanation for the handbag being worth less than $100 would be if it is a counterfeit. A respected member of the Miami establishment giving an elected official counterfeit goods raises its own issues, of course. According to the Kate Spade website, “The sale and distribution of counterfeit product is a crime under federal and many state laws, and is punishable by imprisonment and fines.”

Luckily for both, the counterfeit explanation seems unlikely. The gold lettering of Senator Campbell’s handbag appears to be embossed directly onto the leather itself. Counterfeit designs usually have the label sewn onto a fabric tag.

VERDICT: Highly unlikely.

2. Was the Kate Spade handbag a “discount” purchase?

Did Alfonso find an outlet selling Kate Spade handbags far below their normal retail price?

According to the Kate Spade website, Alfonso could not have acquired the genuine thing without paying the full whack: “Authentic Kate Spade products are not sold at ‘purse parties,’ flea markets, by street vendors, in New York’s Chinatown neighborhood or Santee Alley in Los Angeles, in kiosks in malls, or on auction sites.”

This is what Kate Spade wants to be the case, though. The reality is less clear cut.

Kate Spade handbags have been made in as many as eight countries since the brand’s founding. The 2004 collection, for example, was made in Indonesia. In other years runs have been produced in the Philippines, Taiwan, Italy, Vietnam, the Dominican Republic and China. This can make it hard to police what’s genuine and what is not.

“Sometimes the factory will produce 10,000 of a product and then make 2,000 on the run and sell them off cheaply. They’re not too bad in terms of quality, because they’re coming from exactly the same factory,” lawyer Cassandra Hill told British Vogue.

VERDICT: Possible

3. Was the Kate Spade handbag “pre-owned?”

This is the explanation perhaps has the most weight, but even then it is still problematic.

Alfonso told the Herald the bag he gave to Senator Campbell had been given to his wife but, when she did not like it, he re-gifted it to the senator instead.

Does a re-gifted bag equate to a pre-owned bag?

Do a quick Google search and you’ll find several websites reselling pre-owned Kate Spade designer handbags at a cost of under $100 (although many sell for above this price as well) so this is a possible explanation.

But we know that Alfonso did not buy the bag second-hand, and it seems implausible that he told the Senator that the bag was re-gifted. In the video he can be seen quickly removing the tag so that the Senator will not see it.

It seems likely then that as far as Senator Campbell knew, this was a new bag.

VERDICT: Unconvincing

Our conclusion: Senator Campbell should have declared the bag

Daphne CampbellAnyone familiar with Daphe Campbell can see she is a fashionable woman, but it seems unlikely she is expert enough in the intricacies of counterfeit and second-hand Kate Spade products to have recognized a lower-than-normal priced handbag.

It also seems unlikely she was aware the bag had been re-gifted – Alfonso did his best to hide this information from the Senator until confronted by a journalist.

We are forced to admit, therefore, that whatever the actual value of the Kate Spade handbag, there is no plausible explanation for Senator Daphne Campbell thinking the Kate Spade handbag was worth under $100.

Will it matter? Senator Campbell has often stirred controversy in the past, so perhaps this incident will not stand out. But small events such as this one can often stick in voters minds more than bigger, more complicated financial allegations of scandal.

Soon after the story of the cash-stuffed handbag broke, Scott Maxwell of the Orlando Sentinel commented on the scandal saying:

“Maybe some politicians get so ensconced in the trappings of power that they no longer realize why special interests give them things.

“But voters aren’t confused. Nor are they stupid.”

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