Millennial Political Group Holds Meetings At AIDS Healthcare Foundation Offices In Fort Lauderdale

Chadwick Maxey, Stephanie Rosendorf and Ebonni Bryant

Despite strict Federal regulations prohibiting political activity, it appears AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) forged close ties to a progressive group recruiting millennial political candidates. Last week, REDBROWARD exposed the New Leaders Council (NLC) role advocating for AHF’s planned sixteen-story low income housing tower in Fort Lauderdale. Now, REDBROWARD obtained photographs showing numerous NLC events being held at AHF headquarters in Fort Lauderdale.

In addition to organizing last week’s candlelight vigil in support of the project, NLC leadership even shilled for the controversial “Trantalis Tower” in front of Fort Lauderdale Vice Mayor Ben Sorensen. The vigil turned out to be nothing more than a made-for-local-television event orchestrated by AHF legislative affairs director Ebonni Bryant. She is the former NLC co-director.

After she passed out shirts and signs to the “protestors”, Bryant delivered AHF talking points to local television reporters.

In a post-meeting Facebook message, Bryant thanked several fellow members of the New Leaders Council (NLC) for their support.

Stephanie Rosendorf, another NLC alum, works as an aide for Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich. Rosendorf spread word of last Monday’s vigil via her official Broward County e-mail.

The NLC website lists Chadwick Maxey as the director of the NLC Broward chapter. Maxey, a senior property manger with Diversified Realty Development, spoke at last Monday’s meeting. Maxey said he was troubled by the lack of affordable housing south of the New River. While he never revealed his affiliation with NLC, Chad Maxey sat with Ebonni Bryant and other NLC members at the meeting.

During his 2018 campaign for the Fort Lauderdale Commission Chad Maxey received two contributions from Jason King, the former AHF lobbyist/legislative affairs director. In a December interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Mayor Dean Trantalis said Jason King introduced him to AHF CEO Michael Weinstein.

BLURRED LINES?

According to the Council of Non-Profits, “In return for its favored tax-status, a charitable nonprofit promises the federal government that it will not engage in ‘political campaign activity’ and if it does, IRS regulations mandate that the charitable nonprofit will lose its tax-exempt status.” The IRS does allow a 501 (c)(3) to engage in issue advocacy and voter education measures. According to the IRS, “certain voter education activities (including presenting public forums and publishing voter education guides) conducted in a non-partisan manner do not constitute prohibited political campaign activity. In addition, other activities intended to encourage people to participate in the electoral process, such as voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, would not be prohibited political campaign activity if conducted in a non-partisan manner.”

Questions regarding Michael Weinstein using AHF funds for political gain have been raised in California.

In 2016, The LA Weekly reported AHF “spent more than $22 million on a pair of statewide ballot measures it authored — as well as more than $1 million on local ballot measures.” Experts claimed such expenditures by charitable groups were not the norm. “It is unusual for a 501(c)(3) nonprofit to spend multiple millions of dollars,” said Kathay Feng, executive director of California Common Cause. “Even large organizations like the ACLU don’t have funds set aside for campaign purposes that can match the money major corporations or unions put into a campaign.”

Garry South, a political consultant working for AHF, told the LA Weekly there was nothing odd about the group spending millions of dollars on laws forcing porn actors to wear condoms.

“I don’t think it’s unprecedented,” South said. “501(c)(3)s have the ability, under federal law, to spend money on advocacy, and many of them do. This is not unusual or unprecedented at all.”

While AHF support of condom laws, drug price legislation and housing initiatives may fall squarely under the “voter education” exemption of Federal tax code, the group’s ties to NLC may drag the group into partisan politics.

CREATE A BENCH OF DEMOCRATIC CANDIDATES

According to their website, New Leaders Council (NLC) is “the hub for progressive Millennial thought leadership.” The group claims its training program “equips our leaders with the skills to run for office, manage campaigns, create start-ups and networks of thought leaders. NLC leaders take their activism back into their communities and workplaces to impact progressive change.”

In a 2014 Washington Post story, NLC Executive Director Mark Riddle admitted the group wanted to recruit young Democrats to run for political office. Riddle wrote:

  • [W]hen it comes to building a bench, the saying ‘all politics is local’ has never been more appropriate. Conservatives understand this. They know that the real action is at the municipal level: school boards, mayors, city councils and state legislative bodies. And they have built a clear ladder for young leaders to climb — from doorknocker to trained activist, all the way to campaign surrogate and finally, candidate.

  • Riddle even admitted the NLC targeted Florida. He wrote:

    [S]ince 2011, NLC’s presence in Florida grew from one chapter to seven, and these chapters have trained more than 200 promising leaders. In just three short years, NLC has built a statewide network of trained, capable and engaged political entrepreneurs. These are folks who will become candidates and populate the “bench” at every level in Florida.

    Chadwick Maxey was not the only NLC member seeking office in Broward County.

    In her recent announcement for Mayor of Coral Springs, Nancy Metayer said her platform would be “inclusive economic growth, public safety, and environmental sustainability.”

    In a press release announcing her campaign for Broward County Public Defender Ruby Green said, she is “an active member of New Leaders Council of Broward County.”

    Stephanie Rosendorf is not the only NLC member working for the Broward County Commission. Aides to Beam Furr and Dale Holness are NLC members.

    AHF HQ/NLC HQ

    Photographs obtained by REDBROWARD show NLC holding numerous meetings at AHF offices since 2017. While the NLC bills itself as a “progressive” group, its ties to the Democratic Party seem undeniable. Many NLC members are leaders in Broward Democratic groups.

    Does AHF allow conservative, libertarian or Republican groups to meet at their headquarters?

    Is Ebonni Bryant the only AHF taking part in the NLC activities?

    Does AHF charge the NLC for use of its facilities?

    Is AHF giving NLC an in-kind contribution?

    Did NLC and AHF provide any assistance to Fort Lauderdale officials during the 2018 campaign?

    Is “Trantalis Tower” really just Broward politics as usual?

    AstroTurf: Progressive Group Shills For AHF’s “Trantalis Tower”

    While a diverse cross-section of Fort Lauderdale residents and business owners joined forces to oppose the sixteen story project dubbed “Trantalis Tower,” proponents of the affordable housing project by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) appear to employees of AHF and members of a progressive group of young Democrats. On Monday evening, Fort Lauderdale Commissioner Ben Sorensen hosted a meeting to discuss the AHF/Healthy Housing Foundation plan to build 680 micro unit apartments in Fort Lauderdale. In early December, Michael Weinstein, the controversial CEO of AHF, held a disastrous press conference in Fort Lauderdale. Weinstein refused to answer questions from the media after accusing residents of the nearby Rio Vista neighborhood of making bigoted remarks. Weinstein’s performance caused local leaders like Mayor Dean Trantalis withhold their support of the project.

    Monday night’s meeting was AHF’s latest attempts at damage control. Last week, a local supporter of the project announced a candlelight vigil would be held before the meeting. In her email, Robin Haines Merrill mischaracterized opposition to the project. Like Weinstein, she tried to paint local residents as villains. Merrill wrote, “Unfortunately there is unexpected resistance to this marvelous project. It comes from local business owners and some neighbors who feel that their property values will be affected, or that poor people are criminals that they don’t want in their neighborhood. A very strong campaign has been mounted to stop this affordable housing project.”

    Attendees were told they would receive t-shirts for the vigil at Fort Lauderdale City Hall.

    Instead of an outpouring of grassroots support, AHF loaded up two buses with employees of AHF, members of affiliated groups and even young Democrat Party leaders. Two black Volvo buses drove about 100 people from the AHF offices to City Hall. The low energy group was made up of AHF employees, leaders from Sunserve, individuals from People Helping People, a girls dance team and even the AHF project architect. The vigil was nothing more than a made-for-local-television event orchestrated by AHF legislative affairs director Ebonni Bryant.

    Ms. Bryant passed out shirts and signs to the protestors. She delivered AHF talking points to local television reporters. In a post-meeting Facebook message, Bryant thanked several fellow members of the New Leaders Council (NLC) for their support.

    According to their website, New Leaders Council (NLC) is “the hub for progressive Millennial thought leadership.” The group claims its training program “equips our leaders with the skills to run for office, manage campaigns, create start-ups and networks of thought leaders. NLC leaders take their activism back into their communities and workplaces to impact progressive change.”

    Stephanie Rosendorf, another NLC alumnus, helped spread word of Monday’s vigil by sharing Robin Haines Merrill’s e-mail. Rosendorf is the aide for Broward County Commissioner Nan Rich. Commissioner Rich attended the June AHF press conference announcing the tower project.

    Why is a Broward County Commission aide using her official County email address to promote an event in support of a private real estate development?

    According to the NLC website, Chadwick Maxey is the director of the NLC Broward chapter. Maxey, a senior property manger with Diversified Realty Development, spoke at Monday’s meeting. Maxey said he was troubled by the lack of affordable housing south of the New River. He gave alleged information on rental properties from the Apartments.com website. Even though he never revealed his affiliation with NLC, Maxey sat with Ebonni Bryant and other NLC members at the meeting.

    In January 2018, Maxey ran for the Fort Lauderdale Commission seat currently held by Steve Glassman. Maxey received two campaign contributions from Jason King, the former AHF lobbyist/legislative affairs director. In an interview with the Sun-Sentinel, Mayor Dean Trantalis called King his “plus 1” and said King introduced him to AHF CEO Michael Weinstein.

    If “Trantalis Tower” is such a philanthropic endeavor, why did Michael Weinstein declare war on Rio Vista residents?

    Why do AHF supporters continue to make false claims about the opposition to the project?

    Why is anyone opposed to a private housing project a bigot or racist?

    Why did “supporters” need bus rides and free dinners to come to city hall?

    Why are local progressive activists running the AHF initiative like a political campaign with shills and earned media?

    Is this really about helping Fort Lauderdale residents or is it all about taking “activism back into their communities and workplaces to impact progressive change?”