Only the Florida Legislature could approve campaign reform, wait 20 years, repeal it — and call that campaign reform. That's exactly what lawmakers have done by recreating slush funds controlled by legislative leaders who reward their friends and punish their enemies. They rushed the bill (HB 1207) to Gov. Charlie Crist's desk, and he should call out this hypocrisy today and veto it.
The only thing that has changed in two decades since lawmakers banned so-called leadership funds is that the piles of special interest cash have grown exponentially larger along with the sense of entitlement by legislative leaders. Look at the way indicted former House Speaker Ray Sansom of Destin, former House Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami and incoming House Speaker Dean Cannon of Winter Park steered hundreds of thousands of dollars into the state Republican Party and then subsidized their own lifestyles with state party credit cards. Look at the way other top legislators such as incoming Senate President Mike Haridopolos of Melbourne raise millions through other political committees from interests such as Chambers of Commerce, AT&T and U.S. Sugar Corp. The evidence does not suggest there is a lack of cash floating around Tallahassee or that legislators with such a sense of self-entitlement can police themselves.
Supporters of the bill argue that banning leadership funds just drove the legislators and the money into the state political parties, where the cash is harder to track. But the shortcomings of the current system do not justify creating another one that would be worse. And while Republicans claim re-establishing leadership funds would result in more accountability and greater transparency, it actually would have the opposite effect.
With new leadership funds, legislative leaders would have more direct control over what they consider to be their "own money'' that now sits in state party accounts. They would be able to directly contribute up to $50,000 to any candidate, 10 times what they can contribute through separate Committees of Continuous Existence that some control now. And they would not have to report their contributions nearly as quickly as the separate committees, which are required to post all contributions and expenses on their Web sites within 10 days of each transaction.
This is not reform. This is a license to raise more money, spend more money and hide more money for the very legislative leaders who cannot control themselves now. There are some decent changes in other parts of the bill, but the recreation of leadership funds outweighs those improvements. Crist should veto the bill and tell lawmakers to get it right.