Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida lawmakers revive powerful fundraising accounts

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Legislature reversed one of the most powerful vetoes of former Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday, passing into law a bill that allows legislative leaders to raise unlimited special interest money and funnel it to the campaigns of their hand-picked candidates.

The so-called leadership funds were originally outlawed 22 years ago when Democrats controlled the Legislature and attempted to remove the perception that they were influenced by pay-to-play politics.

By reviving the practice with broader disclosure requirements, Republicans vowed to usher in a new era of fundraising transparency by making public the previously secret campaign ledgers.

"This will create a new level of transparency of the political process that has never been seen before," said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami. "This is more honest than you've ever seen before."

The House vote, 81-39, was along party lines, with Republicans supporting and Democrats opposed. The Senate voted 30-9 with two Republicans — Sens. Paula Dockery and Mike Fasano — voting against. Four Democrats, Sens. Jeremy Ring, Gwen Margolis, Bill Montford and Gary Siplin, voted in favor.

The bill emerged last year in the wake of charges that former Republican Party Chairman Jim Greer used party funds to pay for lavish spending and on a consulting contract that benefited him and the party's former executive director. Crist, who chose Greer to run the party, vetoed the bill, saying that in light of the scandals it put a "stamp of approval on those kinds of funds."

The new law takes immediate effect. It does not require Gov. Rick Scott's signature because the legislation originally passed last year under Crist, who had vetoed it.

Under the new law, the House speaker, the Senate president, and the heads of each of the minority parties could set up political committees, called affiliated party committees, and direct large amounts of cash to any candidate they chose.

The committees could contribute up to $50,000 to a legislative candidate and $250,000 to a statewide candidate — an expansion of the $50,000 limits that now apply to the party. The limits, however, don't apply to polling, staff salaries consultants and campaign ads.

The measure gives legislative leaders the same power as parties when raising and directing campaign funds, strengthening their clout, weakening the power of the political parties and allowing them to work outside the influence of the governor.

Scott, who campaigned as a Tallahassee outsider, said this week he is not threatened by the new law.

But Democratic Party chairman Rod Smith, a former state senator, said the funds will increase the leverage of special interests over lawmakers.

"It lends itself to increasing the influence of money directly onto legislative policy," he said.

He acknowledges that legislative leaders don't have to use the political accounts and will urge his members not to use them because they could be used by Republicans to pressure donors who give to the minority party.

Political fundraisers say the measure will provide a more open way of doing business, removing the guesswork as to who gives what to whom. But many say it simply legitimizes what is already done with a wink and a nod.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, said that when leadership funds were outlawed in 1989 the goal was to reduce the influence of money in the system. But, as a longtime political operative, he believes that goal has failed as "money has become a much more dominating factor in campaigns."

But Sen. Nan Rich, the Senate Democratic leader from Weston, called the transparency a smoke screen to concentrate power into the hands of fewer legislators.

"This will stack the deck even more" and increase the ability of a handful of legislative leaders to " to hold power over their members," she said.

Rep. Rick Kriseman, D-St. Petersburg, said the measure "isn't about transparency. … This is about winning elections."

The measure imposes looser disclosure requirements on leadership funds than those that currently apply to legislators who establish their own political committees. By law, lawmakers are expected to report their contributions to those accounts within five days of receiving them.

Sen. John Thrasher, who as then-Republican Party chairman helped shepherd the bill through last year, acknowledged that the current reporting deadlines could be revised to give the public quicker access to the contributions. For example, legislators, who now may collect funds until the last day before session, are not required to disclose the information until more than halfway through the session in mid April.

"We ought not have to wait on those, and I agree we have to take a look at those," Thrasher said.

House Democrats attempted to derail the vote by claiming the Legislature didn't have the authority to bring up the measure since they have already passed the allotted time in the November special session. Nearly one-third of each chamber never heard the testimony on the original bill.

Florida lawmakers revive powerful fundraising accounts 03/24/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 24, 2011 10:39pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Wrestling to return to old Tampa armory — but just for one night

    Human Interest

    TAMPA — For the first time in decades, wrestling will return to the old Ft. Homer W. Hesterly Armory with a reunion show scheduled for late September.

    For the first time in decades, wrestling will return to the old Ft. Homer W. Hesterly Armory with a reunion show scheduled for late September.
Now named the Bryan Glazer Family JCC, the armory regularly featured stars such as Dusty Rhodes and Jack Brisco. On September 26, it will host a one-time only reunion night. [JAMES BORCHUCK | Times file photo (2016)]
  2. Wanted: New businesses on Safety Harbor's Main Street

    Local Government

    SAFETY HARBOR — A green grocery store, a hardware store, restaurants, boutiques and multi-use buildings are all wanted downtown, according to discussion at a community redevelopment workshop held last week. And to bring them to the Main Street district, city commissioners, led by Mayor Joe Ayoub, gave City Manager …

    Whistle Stop Bar & Grill is one of the main stops on Main Street in Safety Harbor. [LUIS SANTANA | Times]
  3. John Morgan intends to pressure every Florida politician to fund wage initiative

    Blogs

    John Morgan, the publicity-loving personal injury lawyer/entrepreneur who spearheaded the successful medical marijuana initiative, soon plans to start collecting signatures for a 2020 ballot initiative raising Florida minimum wage. He plans to "spend millions of my own money" on the effort, but he also intends to …

  4. Westbound traffic on Courtney Campbell blocked after crash

    Accidents

    Westbound traffic on the Courtney Campbell Causeway is being diverted following a crash early Thursday morning.

  5. Q&A: A business leader and historian jointly delve into Tampa's waterfront

    Business

    TAMPA — As a native of Tampa, Arthur Savage has always had a passion for his hometown's history. And as a third-generation owner and operator of A.R. Savage & Son, a Tampa-based shipping agency, his affinity for his hometown also extends to its local waterways.

    Arthur Savage (left) and Rodney Kite-Powell, co-authors of "Tampa Bay's Waterfront: Its History and Development," stand for a portrait with the bust of James McKay Sr. in downtown Tampa on Wednesday, Aug. 16, 2017. McKay, who passed away in 1876, was a prominent businessman, among other things, in the Tampa area. He was Arthur Savage's great great grandfather. [LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times]