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Should it be easier to give money to Florida politicians?

If you're like me, you've been thinking:

"What this state really needs is an easier way to give money to politicians."

If so, good news! Our state Legislature, between other things, is working on a couple of bills to do just that.

One of these bills is unpleasant but at least debatable. I'm for it.

The other one is an abomination. It legalizes direct bribery of the Legislature. Any member who votes for it should be required by the Constitution to wear a feed bag around the neck with the label, "PAY ME OFF."

Debatable one first.

Senate Bill 1690 would dramatically raise the limits on campaign contributions in Florida, which is now a strict $500 for all state races, one of the lowest limits in the nation.

Under the bill, donors could give up to $10,000 to candidates for governor, $5,000 to candidates for the state Cabinet, $2,500 to candidates for the Legislature and $1,000 for local office.

It's natural at first blush for do-gooder types to balk.

And yet the $500 limit, passed in 1991, is ridiculously low and has had a terrible side effect — the growth of bogus PACs and "committees of continuous existence," some even run by members of the Legislature, with no limit at all.

If I were king of Florida, (hah!) there would be no limit on direct campaign contributions — but the committees would be banned. At the least, it should be illegal for a sitting legislator to operate one. But the $500 limit has made matters worse, not better.

Now for the abomination.

The Legislature also intends to re-legalize a bygone Tallahassee practice known as "leadership funds."

These are campaign accounts, one for the Democrats and one for the Republicans, largely funded by special interests, with the money funneled into local legislative races around the state.

Here's the best part. They are called "leadership funds" because they are run by …

The leaders of the Legislature itself.

Good grief! It's hard to describe how wicked, how backward, how 1930s and how Boss-Hoggish this is.

The very same people in charge of passing Florida's laws will be toting around a gunny sack to collect money from those seeking favorable treatment in those laws.

It's like the wedding scene from The Godfather, where all the guests line up to give envelopes filled with cash.

Two decades ago, in an unusual attack of conscience, the Legislature outlawed leadership funds. Let the political parties raise money; let the Legislature write the laws.

But modern times know no shame, and the 2010 Legislature voted to bring them back. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. Today the Legislature intends to override the veto.

My friends in the Capitol argue that this is a "transparency" bill because it makes it easier for the public to see who is giving money. They say the big scandal at the Republican Party under former chairman Jim Greer could not have happened with this setup.

Nuts. Phooey. Pfft. Besides, I don't care. There ought to be separation between the sacred duty of writing laws in a democracy — and the practice of grubbing for cash.

No member of the Legislature should be able to raise campaign money except for his or her own campaign. No committees. No PACs. No "leadership funds." Nothing.

Say this sort of thing in Tallahassee, of course, and they'll look at you like you're speaking Martian.

Should it be easier to give money to Florida politicians? 03/23/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 23, 2011 8:21pm]

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