TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist must decide Tuesday whether to sign into law a bill that would allow a few legislators to create powerful new fundraising machines known as leadership funds to influence future election cycles.
Crist has three options: sign the bill, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. The measure may not be of much interest to rank-and-file voters, but it's extremely important to Crist's fellow Republicans who run the Legislature.
Both houses passed the bill (HB 1207) and submitted it to Crist a week ago. If the governor gets a bill during the session, he has only seven days to act. That way, if Crist vetoes the bill, lawmakers can pass a revised bill that he would be willing to sign, or try to override his veto with a two-thirds vote in both chambers.
"I have mixed emotions," Crist said of the leadership fund bill. "I'm just not sure when they're done with all the amendments how it's going to end up ... that you understand where the money came from and being sure you know how it's spent."
The Legislature outlawed leadership funds two decades ago because of a perception of "pay-to-play" politics in Tallahassee. But in reality, the system of special interests ponying up big bucks to curry favor with the incoming House speaker and Senate president has continued unabated, with the money being steered to political party funds.
Crist's elections expert, Secretary of State Kurt Browning, said Monday evening he had not yet advised the governor of his views on the bill. Browning said he had no opinion on the re-establishment of leadership funds — "that's a political decision," he said — but he spoke favorably about another part of the bill that imposes some disclosure requirements on electioneering committees that proliferate in close races and pay for hard-hitting ads and mailers.
"It (the bill) would provide some order and some rules for all the money that might be funneled into campaigns," Browning said.
A federal judge last fall struck down Florida's electioneering law as unconstitutional, which has led to what lawmakers and political analysts refer to as a "Wild West" atmosphere of unregulated attack ads.
Steve Bousquet can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (850) 224-7263.