Updated: Aug 18, 2022
Soriano was promised a future campaign job to "throw yourself on your sword to ensure Loomer does not win."
Moderate Republican Gavriel Soriano at the West Orange Chamber of Commerce Hob Nob at the Ocoee Lakeshore Center on July 28. He says Jennifer McMahon of Conservative Republicans for Responsible Representation tried to "bribe" him to drop out of the Aug. 23 primary with the promise of a job in her husband Joe McMahon's future Congressional campaign.
UPDATED AT 12:39 A.M. Aug. 18 to reflect a response from the McMahons.
UPDATED AT 2:31 P.M. to reflect Jennifer McMahon's response.
UPDATED AT 1:32 P.M. to reflect a response from the Webster campaign.
A Republican challenger trying to unseat incumbent Rep. Daniel Webster is accusing two Sumter County Republicans behind a newly formed political action committee of trying to “bribe” him to drop out of the congressional race and endorse Webster to prevent far-right candidate Laura Loomer from winning. All three are running in the newly redrawn 11th Congressional District that now includes Winter Garden, Ocoee, Oakland and Windermere.
The challenger, Gavriel Soriano, of Bushnell, who is more moderate than Loomer and Webster, made the statement in a video released Tuesday morning on his campaign YouTube channel, describing the two as "PAC operatives who are directly coercing candidate withdrawals in an effort to manipulate the list of names on the ballot."
In an exclusive interview with VoxPopuli, Soriano elaborated further, describing the PAC operatives' tactics as a "bribe." He said he received an Aug. 2 email from Jennifer McMahon, of The Villages, who is listed as the treasurer and custodian of records with the Conservative Republicans for Responsible Representation PAC that formed on July 28, according to a Federal Election Commission filing. In the email, obtained by VoxPopuli, McMahon asked Soriano to “throw yourself on your sword and withdraw to ensure Loomer does NOT win.”
In return, McMahon dangled the promise of a position on her husband Joe McMahon’s future congressional campaign. She said that Joe, the PAC’s designated agent, will run for Congress in two years with “the personal endorsement of Webster and a few of our colleagues who are already in Congress.”
Joe McMahon, is the retired president of the Buffalo medical supply company Audubon Machinery Corporation — co-owned with disgraced Congressman Chris Collins, who was convicted in 2020 of insider trading. Founded in 2004, the medical supply company was fined $37,000 by the state of New Jersey, including $19,000 in back wages to six workers, for failing to pay the prevailing wage for work done in 2014 at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in New Jersey.
“No one asks without giving in politics,” McMahon wrote in her email, “when my husband moves forward with his plans to run for Congress and if you want it, there will be a place for you with our campaign.”
McMahon included a not-too-subtle message about 2024 — which Soriano described in his video as an attempt to "threaten and intimidate" — just in case he considered another run: “My husband and I are quite wealthy, and he plans to run for Webster's seat in two years. We can financially destroy anyone who runs against him.”
In response to email questions from VoxPopuli, she said that her statement wasn't intended as a "threat against Gavriel."
"Joseph and I are financially independent," she wrote in an email, "and we may use these resources to mount a strong campaign if he decides to run in two years. We are not ashamed of our financial situation."
A spokesman for the Webster campaign disavowed any knowledge of the Soriano deal and said any suggestion that Webster had "made any endorsements or commitments was inaccurate."
“Oh man. Wow,” said Mike Binder, professor of political political science at the University of North Florida after hearing the text of McMahon's email to Soriano during a phone interview. “Those are conversations you should probably be having in person and not on email.”
Binder called McMahon's email “troubling” and “ethically questionable.”
“You see pressure campaigns all the time,” he said. “The quid pro quo is really where the problem exists. It’s a terrible, terrible look. Collusion, bribery, solicitation or whatever the word is for that, if you’re a voter, you look at that, and it gives you a very bad taste in your mouth.”
Jennifer McMahon denied any quid pro quo in her email to VoxPopuli, stating, "I never said or even implied that he HAD to withdraw from the race to get a position on Joseph’s possible future campaign staff; thus, there is absolutely no quid pro quo."
The plan, outlined in Jennifer McMahon’s email to Soriano, was for Soriano to withdraw on Aug. 10, when her PAC would start running a full-page pro-Webster/anti-Loomer ad in newspapers in Lake and Sumter Counties. “If you withdraw and publicly throw your support behind Webster on Aug. 10, Loomer will have no time to mount a defense,” McMahon’s email said. “Her head will explode if you join us.”
The PAC ads ran; Soriano did not withdraw. "How is this harmonious with 'responsible representation' and a free and fair election process?" Soriano rhetorically asks in his video.
McMahon was unsparing in her assessment of Soriano’s chances in the primary, writing: “I am not going to blow smoke up your ass and tell you that you have a chance, because you do not. You know you aren't going to win. I'm sorry to be cruel but it is the truth.”
It's unclear why the McMahons were so deeply concerned about the primary outcome. While Loomer has out-raised the congressman ($745,513 to $600,000), Webster is sitting on $377,706 for the general election while Loomer is down to $111,811, as of Aug. 3. Webster was also just endorsed by the Orlando Sentinel.
"This is voter fraud," Loomer said in a phone interview. She added that the stunt was proof that Webster no longer wants to serve in Congress.
"He's even willing to sell his seat to keep me out of office," she said. "Bribing another candidate, offering to give them a financial payout or a future job if they drop out and endorse Daniel Webster over my campaign just so that they could run for Daniel Webster's seat in two years with his blessing is political corruption, political bribery, and it's illegal. This is an example of GOP-establishment crooks participating in voter fraud and election interference."
Soriano told VoxPopuli he thinks it’s ironic he was asked to withdraw. “Republicans talk about election fraud and fraud in the government,” he said. “You’re defrauding the voters right now by saying you shouldn’t have this option. Whether I split the vote or I don’t split the vote, if you’re doing your job as a candidate, you should be confident.”
And he assured his supporters that he’s staying in the race , win or lose.
“I wouldn’t vote for a candidate who got pressured either because he thinks there’s some kind of promise of financial gain or position or because he got scared. I mean, what are they going to do, assassinate me?”
Meanwhile, on Aug. 17 at 11:10 P.M., VoxPopuli received an email from Jennifer McMahon's account, signed "Joe McMahon" that claimed they were filing a $10 million lawsuit against VoxPopuli for our reporting. "I hope your shtty [sic] little non-profit has the resources to defend that," the email said. "You f'ed up."