FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — Broward County commissioners again are taking the controversial step of giving away taxpayer money to charities and social movements — with this year's list of beneficiaries including Black Lives Matter and New Florida Majority, two groups that prodded voters to the polls in the presidential election.
The commissioners' spending — sometimes derisively called "slush fund" spending — has long drawn scrutiny. But the practice still has carried on during the past five years. This year's spending, totaling more than $144,000, comes as some commissioners themselves have questioned in recent years if doling out taxpayer money to organizations is the right thing to do.
Government watchdog groups say it's not the place of government to use tax dollars to fund political advocacy groups, or charities, of their choice. The county instead should give residents back their money, something the public likely would appreciate much more in these tough financial times, said Dominic Calabro, the CEO of Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit government watchdog group.
"We are in the middle of a pandemic," Calabro said. "There are people who cannot find work who still have to pay their taxes." Calabro added, "To use tax dollars in a willy-nilly fashion is not appropriate — it's not even respectful — of hardworking families in Broward County that are trying to make ends meet for the whims of their elected officials."
But proponents of the spending say charities and other groups need the boost, especially because their fundraising efforts have been restricted by the COVID-19 crisis. "Many of these organizations without the help would never get the support they need," County Commissioner Dale Holness said.
FUNDING POLITICAL GROUPS
The County Commission's spending began in better financial times, back in 2015. Broward commissioners each receive a yearly budget of $445,040, which pays for personnel services, such as salary and benefits of support staff, and operating expenses, such as mailers. The mayor gets an extra $25,000 to spend.
It's been a practice that any leftover cash the commissioners have left over at the end of the spending year that ends in October is donated to groups with a federal tax exemption for nonprofit organizations, or is given back to the county coffers. The wish list comes up during a public meeting and the commission has to formally approve the spending.
Holness will spend $41,000 on 25 groups ranging from Black Lives Matter, New Florida Majority, the Sickle Cell Disease Association of Broward County, the Caribbean Americas Soccer Association and the Haitian Lawyer's Association.
Black Lives Matter defines itself as a movement seeking justice and became nationally prominent after street demonstrations in 2014 after the deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in New York. The New Florida Majority describes itself on its website as "an independent political organization working to increase the voting and political power of marginalized and excluded constituencies toward an inclusive, equitable, and just Florida."