TALLAHASSEE — Rep. Mike Fasano announced Friday that he's disbanding his political committee and will donate the unspent campaign cash to charity in a gesture he hopes will inspire other lawmakers to support campaign finance reform.
"With the elections reforms that are being talked about, there is no longer a need for these committees," said Fasano, R-New Port Richey.
Fasano said he is backing House Speaker Will Weatherford's effort to eliminate the committees, which were created in the 1950s at first as a way for corporations and associations to raise money. Increasingly, however, powerful lawmakers have used them to amass campaign treasure chests. There are no contribution limits with Committees for Continuous Existence, or CCEs. Dollars slosh through the committees from interest groups, consultants and lawmakers. By the time the money reaches voters in the form of campaign ads, it can be difficult to know the funding's origin.
There are nearly 700 CCEs with about $6 million left in their accounts from the money the committees raised in the last election cycle.
Too much of the money raised by these committees is spent on things other than political campaigns, Weatherford has said, making them susceptible to abuse.
On Friday, Fasano faxed a letter to state officials giving notice that he is pulling the plug on Floridians for Principled Government, a CCE he created in 2003. Since it formed, it has raised $644,000 in contributions and spent $403,000. Its last expenditure was Oct. 30 for $2,500 to the Florida Conservative Action Committee, which is based in West Palm Beach.
Fasano said he is donating $83,000 to the Volunteer Way, a New Port Richey nonprofit, for the purchase of a refrigerator truck to deliver perishable food; $10,000 to the Good Samaritan Health Clinic in New Port Richey; $10,000 to the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, which tracks prescriptions for controlled substances; and $2,000 to SmileFaith Dental Care in Port Richey, which provides free dental care.
Under state law, candidates can steer unspent money to political parties, to charity, return it to donors, deposit into their state office accounts or give the money to the state treasury.
While Weatherford supports banning the CCEs, senators like Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is shaping campaign finance reform in that chamber, believes a ban is like "throwing the baby out with the bath water." He prefers to tweak CCEs so money can't be spent on things like food and drink.
Fasano hasn't always been the model for spending CCE money. In 2006, his committee picked up a $550 tab for a meeting held at a steak house at the Saddlebrook golf and tennis resort.
"I wanted to thank the people who worked for the campaign," Fasano said. "Could I have spent the money on a better cause? Absolutely. There's no question I should have paid for it myself."
Fasano now recommends that others follow his lead and donate to charity, which could end up depriving the party of millions.
"I'd never discourage anyone to give to charity," said Lenny Curry, the RPOF chairman. "But it's always nice for the party to get a little more cash for the coffers to build the infrastructure."
"It is up to members to decide how to spend leftover funds when CCEs are closed," Weatherford said in a statement to the Times/Herald. "I think Rep. Fasano has set a great example. I look forward to the day when all CCEs are closed."
Weatherford disbanded his CCE, Committee for a Conservative House, on Jan. 15. It was created in 2011 and raised $2 million.
He contributed $640,000 to the Republican Party of Florida on Nov. 2, and $100,000 to the Foundation for Florida's Future, the education think tank founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is one of Weatherford's idols.
Only Weatherford and Fasano have disbanded their CCEs this year, said Chris Cate, a Division of Elections spokesman.