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Posted at 4:10 PM ET, 02/ 2/2011

How much trouble is David Rivera in?

By Rachel Weiner

Florida Republican Rep. David Rivera has quickly found himself in ethical hot water.

Florida freshman Republican Rep. David Rivera hasn't had a smooth first month in office. To say the least.

Last Friday, the Associated Press reported that Rivera paid himself nearly $60,000 in unexplained campaign reimbursements over the eight years he served in the state legislature. He's already under criminal investigation for failing to disclose $137,000 in loans from a company co-owned by his mother.

The controversy surrounding Rivera has raised a number of questions regarding his political future.

"We're all anxiously waiting," said Al Cardenas, the former chairman of the state Republican party, of the situation. "I hope the situation clears up in his favor."

At least five Republicans have been named as potential replacements for Rivera, should he be forced to resign from the Miami-area 25th district: state Sen. Anitere Flores, former state Sen. Alex Villalobos, state Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, Miami-Dade school board member Carlos Curbelo and former state Rep. J.C. Planas. Many are longtime rivals who butted heads with Rivera in the state legislature.

Florida law dictates that Gov. Rick Scott (R) would call for a special election to fill a vacancy if Rivera resigned. If he did step aside, Rivera would join three other House members forced out during their first terms in modern times: Louisiana Democrat Richard Tonry (vote fraud, illegal campaign contributions), South Dakota Republican Bill Janklow (manslaughter) and New York Democrat Eric Massa (inappropriate conduct to staff).

Democrats are bullish on their chances for taking the seat, a swing district drawn for Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R) in 2002. (Diaz-Balart vacated the 25th in 2010 after his brother, Lincoln, retired from the nearby 21st. Mario ran and won the open seat contest for the more safely Republican 21st district last fall.)

President Obama nearly won Rivera's district in 2008. That same year, Democrat Joe Garcia came within five points of Diaz-Balart. But in 2010, Garcia lost to Rivera by ten points in what was a terrible year for Democrats state and nationwide.

Rivera was one of 19 Republican incumbents targeted by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee in the committee's first major media effort of 2011. A radio ad targeting Rivera went on the air in Florida Monday.

National Republican officials are monitoring the situation closely although party leadership has made few comments about his plight.

"As I understand the allegations against Mr. Rivera, they don't involve any of his Congressional service," said Speaker John Boehner at a press conference last week. "These are activities that [happened] before he was elected, and I think we need to see how this plays out."

A spokesperson for the National Republican Congressional Committee declined to comment for the story.

Rivera won both his primary and his general election handily in spite of lingering ethics allegations.

As a state legislator, he had already represented much of the district. He raised $700,000 in a little over a month. He was chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party; other Republican contenders claimed that they had trouble getting party money because of his influence.

After the primary, questions about Rivera's finances began to surface. "Honestly, I never understood what David Rivera did for a living," Planas told the AP in October.

Democrats attempted to have Rivera removed from the ballot, alleging that he failed to file truthful financial disclosures. Rivera had described himself as a consultant for the U.S. Agency for International Development. But USAID officials told the Herald they had no record of hiring Rivera. That lawsuit was dismissed.

By Rachel Weiner  | February 2, 2011; 4:10 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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