Friday, November 17, 2017
Politics

Senate's campaign finance compromise gives PACs more influence

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — Political slush funds will get a new name and campaign contribution limits will rise for statewide candidates under a Senate campaign finance bill that won unanimous approval by a Senate committee on Monday.

The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is intended as a compromise to a House plan that makes similar changes and is a top priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Weatherford wants an end to the abuse of political committees known as committees of continuous existence, or CCEs. They are used by legislators who raise unlimited funds, write checks to other candidates, and finance personal entertainment, travel meals and other lavish expenses.

The Senate bill, SB 1382, abolishes CCEs and raises the contribution limit for statewide candidates from $500 to $3,000, to $2,000 for candidates for certain judicial candidates and leaves the cap at $500 for legislative candidates. The House bill, HB 569, also ends CCEs, but raises political contribution limits to $10,000.

Despite the changes, several senators on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voiced skepticism about the bill.

"I guess this is the 'PC' bill. It's politically correct, but it doesn't really change anything in the real world,'' said Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

The House and Senate bills will shift much of the power, including the ability to collect contributions of unlimited amounts, from CCEs to super political action committees. Requirements will be tighter for the kinds of personal expenses the funds can pay for, but the legislator-controlled political committees will also now pay for controversial political ads that CCEs can't finance.

"Doing away with CCEs and the creating these super political committees, I'm not sure what you're gaining or losing,'' said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer and election law expert.

But Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, who ushered in the gift ban from lobbyists to legislators when he was Senate president in 2006, reminded legislators that "we got here because there were abuses of power in this process, because people took advantage of the titles they were lent by the public — in some cases for the express purpose they could monetize that title and be in the lobbying corps."

Former Speaker Dean Cannon is among the former legislators whose use of his political committee is raising the hackles of his former colleagues and lobbyists. Cannon, who left politics after being term-limited out of office in November, has opened a firm in Tallahassee to lobby the executive branch. But he has never shut down his CCE, which raised $1.1 million while he was in office and spent $830,000.

In the finals days of the 2012 election cycle, Cannon's CCE gave $25,000 to the CCE of Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Ormond Beach; $25,000 to the Florida Enterprise Fund, a federally regulated electioneering and communications organization; and $50,000 to the Republican Party of Florida.

Cannon said he asked the CCE chairman, Scott Thomas, to shut it down.

"I have been supportive of that CCE, but I do not have now, or ever had, complete control of it,'' he said Monday. "I have asked the chairman to disperse the remaining funds to the Republican Party of Florida."

In the past two months, since legislators have begun the discussion of closing CCEs, three legislators have started ones while dozens of others have kept theirs active. The newcomers to the table are Reps. Katie Edwards, D-Sunrise; and Sens. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach; and Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.

The Senate bill increases the number of campaign reports candidates are expected to file from eight to 21, including weekly reports after a candidate qualifies. The House bill excludes political parties from the accelerated disclosure requirements, but requires candidates to report daily in the final 10 days of the campaign.

Staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.

Comments
William March: Why Jose Vazquez had to campaign from a prison cell

William March: Why Jose Vazquez had to campaign from a prison cell

Jose Vazquez, Democratic nominee in the Dec. 19 state House District 58 special election, doesn’t seem like a criminal. He’s 43, divorced with six children, and has worked as a security guard and in auto recycling. He was a high-level political field...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Selective outrage: Trump criticizes Franken, silent on Moore

Selective outrage: Trump criticizes Franken, silent on Moore

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is displaying selective outrage over allegations of sexual harassment against prominent men in politics, as his own tortured past lingers over his response. Trump moved quickly Thursday to condemn accusations again...
Updated: 7 hours ago
In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

In struggling upstate New York cities, refugees vital to rebirth

UTICA, N.Y. — Pat Marino pulled into the shop on a cold, wet Thursday and stood close as a young mechanic with gelled-up hair and earrings lifted the truck and ducked underneath."You need a little bit more oil," the mechanic said."Five quarts wasn’t ...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Franken draws swift condemnation in Congress after woman claims he groped her

Franken draws swift condemnation in Congress after woman claims he groped her

WASHINGTON — Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., faced swift condemnation and bipartisan calls for an ethics investigation Thursday after he was accused of forcibly kissing and groping a broadcaster and model while traveling overseas in 2006.The allegations ag...
Published: 11/16/17
Alabama GOP stands by Roy Moore; Trump declines to urge him to quit Senate race

Alabama GOP stands by Roy Moore; Trump declines to urge him to quit Senate race

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Roy Moore won a reprieve in his struggle to survive as a U.S. Senate candidate Thursday when the Alabama Republican Party affirmed it would continue backing him despite allegations that he sexually assaulted teenagers."Judge Moore ...
Published: 11/16/17
Big House victory for GOP tax plan, but Senate fate unclear

Big House victory for GOP tax plan, but Senate fate unclear

WASHINGTON — Republicans rammed a $1.5 trillion overhaul of business and personal income taxes through the House Thursday, edging toward the code’s biggest rewrite in three decades and the first major legislative triumph for President Donald Trump an...
Published: 11/16/17
Trump reverses ban on importing elephants killed as trophies

Trump reverses ban on importing elephants killed as trophies

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration said it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport, contending that encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill them will aid the vulnerable species. The U.S. Fish and Wildlif...
Published: 11/16/17
Senate Judiciary panel: Kushner had contacts about WikiLeaks, Russian overtures he did not disclose

Senate Judiciary panel: Kushner had contacts about WikiLeaks, Russian overtures he did not disclose

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner received and forwarded emails about WikiLeaks and a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite" that he kept from Senate Judiciary Committee investigators, according to pane...
Published: 11/16/17
Not just Disneyland? California officials probe source of Legionnaires’ cases

Not just Disneyland? California officials probe source of Legionnaires’ cases

ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) — Three new cases of Legionnaires’ disease have been identified in Southern California and officials are looking at the possibility there may be a source outside Disneyland, where at least 11 of the patients visited in September,...
Published: 11/16/17
New Jersey Sen. Menendez’s bribery trial, a case with Florida connections, ends in a hung jury

New Jersey Sen. Menendez’s bribery trial, a case with Florida connections, ends in a hung jury

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — The federal bribery trial of Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez ended in a mistrial Thursday when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked on all charges against the New Jersey politician and a wealthy donor.Prosecutors can seek to re...
Published: 11/16/17