The battle between U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Palm Beach Gardens, and Democratic opponent Patrick Murphy has featured dueling ads in which they portray each other as criminals.
And now West has reloaded his attack with a dramatic ad that suggests that when Murphy was arrested when he was a college freshman after a night of drinking and swearing at a police officer, his well-to-do Daddy got the case dismissed.
Earlier in the campaign, West ran an ad that attacked Murphy for an arrest about 10 years ago -- the charge was ultimately transferred to traffic court where it was dismissed. And Murphy attacked West for an incident during his Army career, when West fired over the head of a detainee in Iraq and prompted a military investigation. That led to a fine and reprimand, and West retired from the Army. You can read more about our analysis of those ads in our earlier fact-checks in the race for congressional district 18 in Florida’s Treasure Coast.
Here we will focus on West’s latest attacks about Murphy’s 2003 arrest in this ad:
The narrator begins: "Patrick Murphy isn’t being honest about his drunken assault of a police officer."
The ad then shows Murphy saying: "I took responsibility and it was dismissed."
The narrator then continues: "The truth is after Murphy’s charges were dropped, Murphy’s father gave the prosecutor a huge campaign donation."
On screen, two men in suits shake hands in a stairwell; another image shows someone pushing stacks of cash across a table.
"Now Murphy is hiding behind his dad again using his money to fund a negative campaign. ... "
The ad paints a portrait of Murphy as relying on his Daddy’s big bucks to get him out of trouble and support his campaign. (West has called Murphy a "spoiled brat.")
Here we will focus on West’s claim that that after the charges against Patrick Murphy were dropped, his father "gave the prosecutor a huge campaign donation." We will also briefly explain West’s reference to the role of Murphy’s father’s money in the campaign.
Murphy’s 2003 arrest
We previously fact-checked a West ad that accused Murphy of trying "To hide his drunken assault of a police officer." We ruled that claim Mostly False, because Murphy wasn’t charged with assault, the case was ultimately dropped, and there was no evidence that he tried to hide the 2003 incident.
At the time, Murphy was a 19-year-old college freshman at the University of Miami; he’s now 29.
According to the police report, Murphy and a friend were fighting and disrupting others at a Miami Beach bar, Club Crobar, and escorted out by security. The two men had been drinking, were "soaking wet" from alcohol and had "eyes bloodshot, slurring speech."
An officer asked Murphy for his I.D., but Murphy refused to turn over the fake New Jersey driver’s license. "Defendant refused shouting ‘(expletive) you,’’’ and was arrested, the report stated.
To be clear, we saw no evidence in the officer’s narrative or court records that Murphy physically assaulted a police officer.
Murphy was charged with felony possession of a stolen driver’s license. He entered a plea of "not guilty" Feb. 26, and the criminal case was closed March 10 with a charge transferred to traffic court.
Court records also list "misdemeanor disorderly intoxication" based on the arrest report, but court records show "no action" on this count, and he wasn’t charged for that by prosecutors.
The charge for altering a driver’s license was dismissed by the state attorney’s office in June 2003. The online record doesn’t explain the reason for the dismissal.
Donations by Thomas Murphy to Katherine Fernandez Rundle
West’s new ad continues the focus on the same incident, this time looking at campaign donations made by Patrick’s father Thomas P. Murphy and his construction businesses to Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.
Fernandez Rundle has been the county’s top prosecutor since March 1993.
The West campaign cited three $500 donations by Coastal firms for a total of $1,500 in 2004 -- the year after Murphy’s case was dropped.
We also searched state contribution records and did not find any additional donations from Thomas Murphy or Coastal Construction for Fernandez Rundle, a Democrat, in 2004. But we also found that Thomas Murphy gave $500 in 2000 -- a few years before his son’s arrest. Coastal firms gave a total of $2,500 to Fernandez Rundle’s campaign years later, in 2012. (She didn’t face an opponent in 2008.)
In each race, the donations were a small drop in Fernandez Rundle’s six-figure war chests -- she raised about $800,000 in 2004. Fernandez Rundle easily won her races in 2004 and 2012.
We asked West campaign manager Tim Edson if he found any evidence that Murphy’s father and his donations influenced his son’s case being dropped.
"In the TV ad we ran, we just laid the case out," Edson said. "If you are fact-checking the ad, the ad does not say there was any direct correlation. It leaves it up to the viewer to decide. Somebody’s charges were dropped inexplicably, yet campaign contributions were made. It is a fair question to be asked. The public can make a decision for themselves."
But we found there wasn’t anything particularly special about the donations from Thomas Murphy or his companies to Fernandez Rundle. State and federal records show that Thomas Murphy or his firm has donated to dozens of candidates or political groups for both major parties for a variety of offices including presidential, U.S. Senate, statewide positions and the state Legislature since the late 1990s.
State records show Coastal Construction donated a total of about $136,000 to candidates and political committees between 1997 and 2012. Two of the largest state donations by Coastal Construction were $25,000 to the Republican Party of Florida in 1998 and $50,000 to a committee that supported Democrat Alex Sink’s 2010 bid for governor. Coastal Condominiums also gave $50,000 to the RPOF in 2002.
In a business story in the Miami Herald about Coastal Construction, it states that Patrick Murphy’s campaign did cause his father to stop some political activity: fundraising for Republican Mitt Romney for president.
Murphys’ relationship with Fernandez Rundle
Thomas Murphy didn’t respond to our interview requests, but we did contact his son’s campaign and Fernandez Rundle’s office.
Murphy campaign consultant Eric Johnson said that Thomas Murphy has known Fernandez Rundle for several years through the "political world."
Fernandez Rundle said that she knew Thomas Murphy for years but had never met Patrick Murphy until recently. She had seen Thomas Murphy at community or charitable events for years.
Both Johnson and Fernandez Rundle said that Thomas Murphy did not contact her about his son’s arrest.
"This recent focus on a case from 2003 is the first I’ve heard of the matter...," Fernandez Rundle wrote in an email. "Based upon the assistant state attorney’s interview with the arresting police officer, it was determined that the facts of the specific case could not support a belief that the charges could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. As a result, the disorderly intoxication charge was dropped and the possession of a stolen driver’s license (for the false I.D.) was directed to traffic court."
Thomas Murphy’s PAC
West’s ad also says, "Now Murphy is hiding behind his dad again using his money to fund a negative campaign."
That’s a reference to the American Sunrise PAC that is largely funded by Murphy’s father who gave $250,000.
The PAC aired an ad depicting a caricature of West, who is African-American, in boxing gloves punching an old white woman, a younger white woman and grabbing money from a black family. The ad was intended to depict West socking it to constituents over Medicare, health care and tax cuts. West and his supporters argued the ad was racist, but the NAACP disagreed. (A Palm Beach Post editorial said the ad wasn’t racist but criticized Murphy for saying he had nothing to do with an ad created by his father.)
West’s ad says "After Patrick Murphy’s charges were dropped, Murphy’s father gave the prosecutor a huge campaign donation."
There is a sliver of truth here: After the 2003 case against Murphy was dropped, his father’s companies gave $1,500 to Fernandez Rundle’s re-election campaign. Murphy’s father also gave $500 to Fernandez Rundle in 2000.
But there are two significant problems with this claim. First, we wouldn’t call $1,500 in donations "huge." They weren’t huge for Fernandez Rundle, who raised about $800,000 in her 2004 campaign. And the amount wasn’t huge for the companies, either. They had given five-figure donations to the Republican Party of Florida in the past -- and $50,000 to Sink since then.
West’s campaign emphasized that the ad simply lays out the facts for the viewers to decide. But the ad’s images of shadowy meetings and large piles of cash leave viewers with the impression that there was an exchange of campaign donations for Murphy’s case being dropped. We see no evidence to prove that connection.
We rate this ad Mostly False.