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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

City matches for small political contributions? St. Pete treads softly



City Council member Karl Nurse's proposal Thursday to match city money for municipal campaign contributions under $100 met the political equivalent of a pillow gently applied to its face until the do-gooder impulse stopped moving.

Then, at the last moment, a council committee removed the pressure and asked city attorneys to see if city-financing of small contributions had any chance of surviving a lethal response from Tallahassee.

The idea, Nurse said, would be to counter the growing influence of political action committees and "dark money" in city politics. He said last election cycle saw 593 contributions under $100 so the cost to the city's general fund would be small.

"If you were to incorporate a campaign finance system from scratch, what would you want to do? You'd want contributions to be small and from human beings, as our children know human beings, not as the (U.S.) Supreme Court knows human beings, and local," Nurse said.

No council member objected to Nurse's idea, presented at the Budget, Finance and Taxation Committee meeting, and several, including Jim Kennnedy, Charlie Gerdes and Darden Rice, said they were philosophically supportive.

But none of them gave it much chance of surviving a legal preemption --or scuttling---from Tallahassee. 

"If we were truly king of our little kingdom we could do things that make sense," Kennedy said, But, he said, that's not the world that Florida cities live in.

What about getting a attorney general opinion? asked Gerdes.

Nurse was hesitant to inquire for Pam Bondi's opinion. "If I had more respect for her, I'd be more inclined to ask," he said.

After nearly an hour's discussion, which included an overview of what cities like New York, Chicago and New Haven, Conn have implemented, the committee voted unanimously for the city attorney's office to reach a formal conclusion of whether the state would preempt any attempt to match small contributions.

"I just want to avoid a lawsuit," Gerdes said.


[Last modified: Thursday, February 25, 2016 4:15pm]


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