‘Ghost candidates’ blamed for siphoning votes in Florida Senate races

(CNN) - Officials are calling for an investigation into so-called “ghost candidates” in Florida.

These mysterious candidates appear to run for office solely to take votes away from a competitor and make it easier for a third candidate to win.

It was the closest of races. Incumbent Democrat Jose Javier Rodriguez lost his Florida State Senate seat by just 32 votes.

The Republican challenger who won was Ileana Garcia, a founder of Latinas for Trump.

But there was a third candidate in this race, playing the role of spoiler: Alex Rodriguez, who shared the same last name as the Democrat in the race and promoted himself as a liberal. Alex Rodriguez got more than 6,000 votes.

Jose Javier Rodriguez said the straw candidate cost him his seat by pulling away Democrat votes.

“I didn’t even know what he looked like, until after the race, and investigative reporters tracked him down,” he said.

In State Senate District 9, Democrat Patricia Sigman lost to a Republican by just 2 percent of the vote. No one ever saw the supposedly liberal, third candidate.

“She had no website. She never participated in any of the debates or forums, never showed up anywhere. She wasn’t even registered to vote until she filed,” Sigman said.

In these races and one other, ghost candidates in Florida were supported by mysterious political action committees that sent out hundreds of thousands of dollars in mostly identical advertising mailers, making those candidates seem liberal.

CNN has learned, the people behind the mailers were all Republicans.

“This is a new one for me,” said Ben Wilcox, research director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Integrity Florida.

He said no doubt, someone running a dark money campaign impacted at least one state senate seat, possibly two.

“Florida is so loosely regulated when it comes to financing of campaigns that it’s probably legal, but it really shouldn’t be,” Wilcox said.

Two new political action committees were registered on the same date, at the same minute, and one day later received a combined $550,000 in donations from the same company.

The paperwork says the PACs were started by two young women whose social media is filled with pictures of beaches and boats.

CNN could find no evidence either of them or their PACs had ever been involved in politics.

Then, on the very same day, both PACs paid the same printing company all $550,000 for the flyers. It’s their only expenditure.

The printing company and one of the PACs are linked to this man: Alex Alvarado, a Tallahassee-based Republican consultant and former Republican congressional intern.

The printing company is run out of this house owned by his mom and stepdad, the PAC started by a friend of his girlfriend’s.

Despite being involved in ghost candidate advertising with very liberal and progressive ideas, every one of them is a registered Republican. That even includes the ghost candidate Alex Rodriguez, who was registered Republican until this election, and none of them are talking.

Alex Rodriguez even lied to a Miami TV reporter about his own identity when he answered the door at his home.

The money flowed into the PACs from one company, Proclivity, which is registered in Delaware as a corporation under the name Richard Alexander.

What or who is Proclivity? The trail ends at a strip mall in Atlanta, where Proclivity has a mail box drop but nothing else.

Democrats like Sigman are calling for an investigation into who paid for all this.

“They don’t run in order to win. They run in order to just try to siphon off votes. And they don’t have a website. They don’t campaign. They don’t show up. They’re ghosts,” Sigman said.

Florida’s Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee denies any knowledge whatsoever of the mysterious money that helped in their races.

CNN has repeatedly reached out to the ghost candidates, the political action committees, the Republican strategists, even the company that supplied the more than half million dollars, and none of them are talking.

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