Francis Suarez leans on Lionel Messi to boost presidential campaign donations

Miami mayor is offering free tickets to soccer star’s debut game with Inter Miami CF

Lionel Messi, Mayor Francis Suarez, Inter Miami CF's Jorge Mas and David Beckham
Lionel Messi, Mayor Francis Suarez, Inter Miami CF's Jorge Mas and David Beckham (Getty)

If you’ve got a dollar to spare for his presidential campaign, Mayor Francis Suarez is offering a chance at free front row seats to international soccer star Lionel Messi’s first game as a member of Inter Miami CF next week. 

While the raffle is allowed under state and federal campaign finance laws, Suarez’s giveaway could draw more scrutiny for the mayor, who’s facing an inquiry from Miami-Dade County’s ethics commission and the state attorney’s office for a private side gig with a firm owned by Coral Gables-based developer Rishi Kapoor. The FBI is also conducting a public corruption probe into their business dealings. 

Inter Miami CF’s majority owners, businessman Jorge Mas and retired soccer star David Beckham, have a deal with the city of Miami to build a massive mixed-use project anchored by a soccer stadium on public land. Mas and Beckham lead an investment group that is developing Miami Freedom Park on a 73-acre portion of the former Melreese Country Club at 1400 Northwest 37th Avenue. 

Spokespeople for Suarez’s presidential campaign and Inter Miami CF said the mayor’s federal candidate committee paid face value for the tickets. Front row seats for Messi’s debut on July 21 are retailing for $2,000 a pair, according to Inter Miami CF’s website.
On Thursday, Suarez tweeted an image promoting the giveaway from his personal account. The tweet also said, “I’m entering everyone who Venmo’s @ Suarez2024 $1 for a chance to win FRONT ROW tickets to see Lionel Messi’s debut at Inter Miami!”

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Small print at the bottom of the image provides key details about the raffle: “You don’t have to donate to his campaign to enter the drawing, which will be held July 20. You may also enter by mailing a postcard to 2308 Mt. Vernon Avenue, Box 204, Alexandria, Virginia 22301.”

Under Florida gaming laws, nonprofit campaign organizations such as Suarez’s presidential campaign cannot require raffle participants to make a donation, and must abide by a free-to-enter policy. 

Suarez is among 11 candidates vying for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, including Mar-a-Lago’s most famous resident, former President Donald Trump, and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Suarez is trying to qualify for the first GOP primary debate in August by garnering 40,000 small donors. 

The mayor has also faced criticism for accepting marquee event invites from prominent businessmen. In May, billionaire hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, who is proposing a $1 billion office tower in Brickell, hosted Suarez and his wife at the Miami Grand Prix at Hardrock Stadium in Miami Gardens, the Miami Herald reported. The VIP tickets retailed for $14,000 each, and Griffin’s company Citadel told the newspaper that Suarez covered the cost. 

In March, Suarez received two tickets, valued at $20,000, for courtside seats to a Miami Heat game. Those tickets were paid for by Sean Wolfington, an entrepreneur, film producer and executive for online auto buying platform CarSaver, the Miami Herald reported. 

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