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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Corcoran says House will seek 'dramatic reform' in fundraising

22

November

If Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran is determined to break up the status quo in Tallahassee, sooner or later he'll have to attack the root of the problem: Money.

He says he will. In an interview with the Times/Herald, Corcoran said that after rounding out his leadership team, "I fully anticipate that we will try to have some proposals dealing with campaign finance reform ... It would be dramatic reform." He said he was not prepared to discuss specifics yet.

Nowhere in the new bipartisan set of House rules to be adopted Tuesday is there any effort to address the most glaring problem that has damaged the Legislature's credibility with the public. Here's background from the Times/Herald 2014 series Buying In: How Money Controls Tallahassee.

For example, lawmakers can take money from lobbyists who seek their votes on bills, and while they can't accept checks during the regular session, they can during periodic committee weeks, where there are often more fund-raisers at the Governor's Club than there are public meetings in the House Office Building.

Lawmakers also can control two fund-raising operations: one for their re-election and a second political committee, not bound by any contribution limits, can raise unlimited amounts of money from special interests, even during the 60-day regular session. Some House members have already formed PCs even though they have yet to cast a vote as a legislator. Corcoran didn't create one until after he was chosen by his colleagues to be a future speaker, and the Florida Roundtable raised $2.4 million.

Past efforts to shut down the committees have gone nowhere. Even a modest ban on ending the fund-raising shakedown during committee weeks couldn't get off the ground.

Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, who worked with the Republicans on rules changes, said both parties discussed it, but the idea was abandoned. "There was some discussion and it was decided not to do it," Berman said. Asked to explain why, she said: "I'd prefer not to" and that the Democratic "caucus was split" on the idea. Berman, entering her final House term, said she didn't care whether the ban were implemented or not: "I'm termed out. I'm not up for re-election," she said.

The speaker's office has declined a Times/Herald request to provide drafts of proposed rules changes, citing a public records law exemption.

Nothing screams "status quo" as much as the current system of member-controlled slush funds, which is indefensible if Corcoran is serious about reforming the system.

One possible solution is for the House to propose abolishing the committees, possibly in return for higher contribution limits to members' campaigns. Another is to restrict how the money is spent to end the practice of lawmakers using PCs to subsidize personal expenses on political business, such as meals, entertainment and travel.

As Corcoran put it in his brief speech at his designation ceremony Monday, "We have to reduce the temptations."

[Last modified: Tuesday, November 22, 2016 6:33am]

    

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