Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida leaders call for sanity in campaign finance

In the world of Florida politics, where cash is king, $500 used to mean something.

Five hundred bucks is the maximum contribution someone can give directly to a candidate for office in an election, from governor on down to the county school board.

The $500 limit has been the law since 1991, when Lawton Chiles rode to the governorship calling for changes to the campaign finance system to curb the influence of money.

Chiles had cleverly capped his own contributions at $100 in that 1990 race and was adept at "bundling," or combining dozens of $100 checks from similar sources, such as law partners.

The news media and good-government groups hailed the $500 cap as positive reform.

But through the years, TV ad rates skyrocketed and consultants demanded higher fees, and now $500 is chump change in Florida's no-holds-barred fundraising atmosphere.

That's because state legislators have legally devised an end run around the $500 limit by controlling political committees that are exempt from the limit. They can accept donations in any amount and are more dependent than ever on big money contributions from dominant political interests, such as hospitals, insurers, casinos, race tracks, law firms and labor unions.

In effect, dozens of lawmakers now control millions of dollars that used to go to political parties. The new legislative leaders say things have gotten completely out of hand, but took advantage of the system themselves.

In the campaign cycle that just ended, Senate President Don Gaetz controlled a fund of about $4 million and House Speaker Will Weatherford, $2 million. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, controlled a fund that raised $1.9 million. Latvala, a tenacious and experienced lawmaker, is the new chairman of the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee, a focal point of changes to the campaign finance system.

Gaetz and Weatherford want to raise the $500 contribution cap and ban legislator-controlled funds, called CCEs or committees of continuous existence, which collectively raised $22 million in the last cycle, according to contributionlink.com.

"I think $500 is archaic," Weatherford says. "We all know people are spending a lot of money on campaigns. Unfortunately, none of it's going to the actual campaigns."

Before Chiles, the maximum contribution to a legislative candidate was $1,000, and $3,000 to statewide candidates.

Weatherford says the changes he seeks would be more transparent than what exists today in Florida.

Under the current system, CCEs and electioneering organizations that buy ads and mail pieces transfer millions of dollars among them, making it hard to follow the money.

Gaetz and Weatherford see a system poisoned by big money and want to clean it up, just like Chiles did more than two decades ago.

"What I'm trying to achieve is sanity," Weatherford says.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at [email protected] or (850) 224-7263.

Florida leaders call for sanity in campaign finance 11/26/12 [Last modified: Monday, November 26, 2012 7:36pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Tampa Bay small businesses give Tampa B+ for regulatory climate

    Corporate

    In a recent survey about small business sentiments toward state and local government policies that affect them, Tampa Bay ranked at No. 25 out of 80 — a B+ overall.

    Tampa Bay ranked No. 25 out of 80 in a recent survey about how small business owners feel about state and local government policies that affect them. | [Times file photo]
  2. Dirk Koetter to Bucs: Take your complaints to someone who can help

    Bucs

    TAMPA — It was just another day of aching bellies at One Save Face.

    Dirk Koetter: “All of our issues are self-inflicted right now.”
  3. Seminole Heights murders: fear and warnings, but no answers

    Crime

    TAMPA — Interim Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan elicited loud gasps from the crowd of about 400 who showed up at Edison Elementary School on Monday night to learn more about the string of unsolved killings that have left the southeast Seminole Heights neighborhood gripped by fear.

    Kimberly Overman, left, comforts Angelique Dupree, center, as she spoke about the death of her nephew Benjamin Mitchell, 22, last week in Seminole Heights. The Tampa Police Department held a town hall meeting Monday night where concerned residents hoped to learn more about the investigation into the three shooting deaths over 11 days in southeast Seminole Heights. But police could give the crowd at Edison Elementary School few answers. [OCTAVIO JONES   |   Times]
  4. Juvenile justice reform seen as help for teen car theft problem

    Crime

    ST. PETERSBURG — One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations has decided to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year.

    One of Tampa Bay's largest religious organizations, Faith & Action for Strength Together (FAST), voted Monday night to make reforming the juvenile justice system one of its top priorities for next year. FAST believes civil citations could help Pinellas County?€™s teen car theft epidemic by keeping children out of the juvenile justice system for minor offenses. [ZACHARY T. SAMPSON  |  Times]
  5. U.S. general lays out Niger attack details; questions remain (w/video)

    War

    WASHINGTON — The U.S. Special Forces unit ambushed by Islamic militants in Niger didn't call for help until an hour into their first contact with the enemy, the top U.S. general said Monday, as he tried to clear up some of the murky details of the assault that killed four American troops and has triggered a nasty …

    Gen. Joseph Dunford said much is still unclear about the ambush.