Secretive sheriff-related political fundraiser brings high rollers to Bergeron ranch

Sheriff's attorney denies fundraiser for re-election campaign

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – The invitation said the fundraiser at developer Ron Bergeron's Green Glades ranch was for "Citizens for Effective Law Enforcement" -- and for anyone wanting to contribute, the minimum amount allowed was $1,000.

Showing up at the April 3 event were several politically active hires of Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. BSO general counsel Ron Gunzburger, who also served as Israel's campaign strategist, drove past the Green Glades gates, as did Democratic fundraiser Steven Greenberger, also hired by Israel, showed up. So did Todd Wilder, a political operative who lives in Tallahassee that Israel hired as a consultant.

And showing up as the guest of honor was the sheriff himself, yet when asked about the fundraiser on his way into the ranch, co-sponsor Jamie McDonnell, a multimillionaire businessman who lives in Weston, denied it was even happening.

"I have no idea what you're talking about," said McDonnell, peering through the open window of his black Rolls Royce. "What fundraiser? I'm just here seeing my good friend Ron Bergeron."

So why all the secrecy? In short, this was the kind of fundraiser that politicians don't want anyone to know about, for a so-called 527 political committee that, unlike candidates themselves, can accept unlimited money from wealthy donors and corporations and often engage in nasty attack ads candidates don't necessarily want to be affiliated directly to them.

Israel refused an interview request concerning the event, but his general counsel denied it was a fundraiser for the sheriff.

"The sheriff has not yet opened any re-election campaign account for 2016, so this was not a fundraiser 'for the sheriff,'" Ron Gunzburger wrote to Local 10.

But even Bergeron, the fundraiser's host, acknowledged it was, in fact, for Israel.

"It's a fundraiser for the sheriff's future election," Bergeron said after driving up to Local 10's cameras in his black-and-gold Hummer. "... He's our sheriff and I think he's done a good job."

Dan Krassner, executive director for the nonprofit Integrity Florida, said money going to political action committees, political parties and 527s constitutes the "defining issue of our lifetimes."

"The big money goes to the parties and these PACs, and it's more secretive and less accountable," he said. "The public is flooded with ads from groups that sound good, but you don't know really know who's behind them."

In the 2012 election, Israel himself called for such "outside groups" to stay out of the election, but his campaign used them, as did his opponent, then-Sheriff Al Lamberti. Running a 527 for Israel at that time was Wilder, a political consultant who previously worked for Sheriff Ken Jenne, who was forced from office when he was convicted of a corruption charge and went to prison. After Israel won the election, he hired Wilder's company, MG Strategies, as a consultant on the taxpayers' dime at $5,000 a month, plus $1,000 a month per diem for travel to Broward County.

Wilder showed up at the fundraiser, but said in an email that he is not organizing the 527 and showed up only as an invited guest. Listed on the 527, however, is Wilder's friend and associate, Joe Perry, and "Citizens for Effective Law Enforcement" has an address at the same UPS store where Wilder lists his own address in Tallahassee.

Also, Wilder's wife, Kimberley, served as the notary for the 527's corporate papers.

"Mr. Wilder's consulting work for BSO does not involve political activities," wrote Gunzburger. "So there is clearly no 'conflict of interest.'"