Florida State Senator Daphne Campbell has claimed the designer purse stuffed with an unknown amount of hundred dollar bills she was filmed receiving at a fundraiser was “a joke.”
Campbell was given the black and white Kate Spade label purse at 2017 fundraiser held at the Miami Shores Country Club and, on video produced by Campbell’s office, campaign donor Julio César Alfonso is seen placing a wad of cash in the purse just before handing it to the Senator.
If she did keep the cash, it is a donation that Campbell has failed to disclose in accordance with state election law.
Daphne Campbell: courter of controversy
The Democratic State Senator from North Miami is no stranger to negative headlines: the Medicaid Fraud Control Unit has investigated a business owned by her and her husband, the couple were hit by the IRS with $145,000 worth of liens, her top aide Janice Shackelford was arrested in 2012 for defrauding constituents who applied to Campbell’s office for assistance, and her husband pleaded guilty in 2007 to a federal charge of falsely using someone else’s Social Security number to obtain over $800,000 in loans.
In May 2017, Campbell’s staff organized a 60th birthday party that doubled as a campaign fundraiser: attendees were each required to make a minimum $150, maximum $1,000 donation.
At the close of the event, which was filmed and posted on YouTube , Julio César Alfonso of the healthcare non-profit Solidaridad Sin Fronteras approached Daphne Campbell with a box. Inside was a black and white top-handle handbag by designer Kate Spade.
Cambell appears very excited when she sees her gift, and then (apparently) jokes, “And money’s in it too!”
Someone neaby shouts “I’ve got the check!”
Then, perhaps responding to Campbell’s joke, Alfonso is seen slowly reaching into the his jacket pocket. Campbell looks on and at first the crowd appears unsure of what is happening. The video zooms in for a closeup of the bag itself and César Alfonso’s hand then appears holding a wodge of bills, which he places inside the bag still in Campbell’s hands.
Everyone laughs, and Campbell says, “Thank you, thank you!” before posing for a photo with Alfonso and her gifts. At no point is she seen returning the money.
According to reporting in the Miami Herald on Friday, the amount Alfonso placed in the purse was at least $200. Campbell failed to report the cash donation so if she kept it she violated Florida law on two counts: not reporting the donation and accepting a cash donation in excess of $50.
Daphne Campbell the comedian
Campbell did not react at all well to approaches from the Herald about the story, however.
Speaking of herself in the third person, she told the Herald:
“They were celebrating Daphne Campbell’s birthday. That night, of course I was joking. I was joking! It was just a joke. What kind of life can an elected official have if on your birthday it’s an issue? I’m very upset for you guys to call me and say I received money and I didn’t report it.
“People can’t donate to your birthday no more?”
Campbell then argued (1) the purse had been empty, (2) the purse itself was not expensive, and (3) she had not used the purse since receiving it.
“The purse had no money! Go and call him and ask him. Julio gave me campaign contributions. It’s in the report. But we were just joking. You can’t joke anymore? Oh my goodness. Up to today’s date, I don’t even use that purse yet. The purse is not an expensive purse, number one. Two, the purse had no money. You can’t joke anymore. You have to watch what you’re doing.”
As Florida law requires the declaration of any gift worth in excess of $100, the value of the purse itself is also an issue. Many of the handbags currently available on katespade.com, are priced at much higher than the declaration threshold.
But rather than clear up what were perhaps a few technical questions about a donation, Campbell got angry and twice refused to answer questions before hanging up.
The Herald did speak to Alfonso, and he did back up Campbell’s story of the money being a joke, saying:
“I think it was a joke. I gave her some presents and gifts and she said ‘Oh, there’s money inside.’ I pulled from my pocket some money — maybe, I don’t know, a one- or five-dollar bill. I [took] it back. The gift was closed. I put like a joke and I [took] the money back. It’s a public event.”
In the context of the video it does appear that Alfonso’s account is correct – the he spontaneously responded to her joke about money being in the purse by putting some money in himself. The audible laughs from onlookers also backs up Aflonso’s account that he was making a joke.
While the joke story may seems more credible than the theory of a possible undeclared donation, the story does bring Campbell’s judgement into question.
Why would she make a joke at a public event about receiving a purse full of cash from a donor?
Why would she edit a video to include this joke but not show the money being removed?
If she did not want the issue to be questioned by the media, why would she publish the video, including footage of what appears to be a suspect donation, on YouTube?
As an experienced politician who is no stranger to controversy, many will think Campbell should have known better. As she herself told the Herald, “You can’t joke anymore. You have to watch what you’re doing.”