Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Bills race through Legislature to revive once-outlawed 'leadership funds'

TALLAHASSEE — Legislative leaders are swiftly carrying out one of their priorities by bringing back once-reviled "leadership funds," unlimited soft-money accounts under direct control of a few influential lawmakers.

Reform-minded legislators outlawed the funds in 1989 amid a growing perception of "pay to play" politics. Special interests donated vast sums to powerful lawmakers (Democrats at that time) right before or during the legislative session, and lawmakers unopposed at election time would funnel their unspent campaign money into a leadership fund, only to be handed choice committee chairmanships.

In reality, the leadership funds never really disappeared. They functioned underground as part of the two political parties' vast fundraising apparatus, with big-money donors being asked to write checks to "House Victory" or "Senate Victory" funds. But the cash was homogenized into the parties' bottom lines.

Now, Republican lawmakers are packaging the re-creation of the funds as an act of "transparency" intended to reinforce the "who gave it, who got it" principle of Florida's campaign finance laws. A secondary motive for the funds' resurgence was revelations of lavish spending by Republican Party ex-chairman Jim Greer.

"The public will be well served if we bring back transparency to the process," said Sen. J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee. "Under the current system, there's no way to see how much money they have raised or see from which interests they have raised that money."

SB 880 cruised through the committee on an 8-3 party-line vote Tuesday. With the outcome preordained, Democrats did not bother even debating against the bill.

Democrats called the "transparency" argument a cynical ploy by Republicans that will actually result in less transparency than currently exists. The leadership funds, which would called Affiliated Party Committees or APCs, would report donations and expenditures quarterly, the same as political parties, and would not required to have Web sites and report transactions within 10 days, as other lawmaker-controlled committees must.

The four lawmakers who will control the funds are the incoming Senate president and House speaker and the Democratic or minority leaders of the two chambers.

Voting against the bill were Democratic Sens. Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg, Arthenia Joyner of Tampa and Nan Rich of Weston, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, who said: "This bill opens the floodgates to special interest money and the influence it buys."

The House version of the bill, HB 1207 by Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, will be considered today by the Economic Development and Community Affairs Policy Council.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at or (850) 224-7263.

Bills race through Legislature to revive once-outlawed 'leadership funds' 03/09/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 9, 2010 8:52pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Gov. Rick Scott could soon be the all-time king of line-item veto


    2016: $256,144,027

    2015: $461,387,164

    2014: $68,850,121

    2013: $367,950,394

    2012: $142,752,177

    2011: $615,347,550

    Only once has Scott used the line-item veto sparingly. That was in 2014, the year he ran for re-election, when he removed a paltry $69 million from the budget.

    Gov. Rick Scott waves a veto pen at The Villages in 2011.
  2. Rays morning after: An up-and down day for Jose De Leon


    Rays RHP Jose De Leon had a busy Monday - getting called up to join the Rays for the first time and making his way from Pawtucket, R.I., to Boston and the flying to Texas, working 2 2/3 eventful innings to get the W in the 10-8 victory over the Rangers, and then getting optioned back to Triple-A.

    Jose De Leon follows through in the sixth inning against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, on May 29, 2017.
  3. Resignation of communications director Dubke could signal more changes within White House staff


    WASHINGTON — Mike Dubke has resigned as White House communications director, a senior administration official confirmed Tuesday, in the first of what could be a series of changes to President Trump's senior staff amid the growing Russia scandal.

    President Donald Trump speaks at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Va., Monday, May 29, 2017, during a Memorial Day ceremony. [Associated Press]
  4. Trump pays somber tribute to fallen troops on Memorial Day


    ARLINGTON, Va. — President Donald Trump expressed the nation's "boundless" gratitude for the ultimate sacrifice paid by Americans defending the United States, dedicating his first Memorial Day address as commander in chief to a top Cabinet secretary and two other families who lost loved ones.

    Brittany Jacobs, left, watches as her 6-year-old son Christian Jacobs meets President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery, Monday, May 29, 2017, in Arlington, Va. Jacobs father, Marine Sgt. Christopher Jacobs, was killed in 2011. [Associated Press]
  5. Florida education news: Budgets, discipline, charter schools and more


    BUDGETING: Florida school district officials keep a close eye on their spending plans as they await word on the Legislature's budget. Gov. Rick Scott