Thursday, June 21, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: The dangers of dark money in the Sunshine State

Dark money is flowing in the Sunshine State and eroding the ability of Floridians to determine who spends big money to influence public policy. A new report indicates the number of dark money groups in Florida — so-called social welfare nonprofits that do not have to disclose their contributors or detail their political expenditures — has more than doubled in recent years. This is the sort of secrecy that breeds corruption, and voters should insist on national reforms that restore transparency as the antidote to such a serious threat to democracy.

The report by MapLight, a nonpartisan research organization, confirms the influence of dark money extends far beyond Washington and into Florida. Mary Ellen Klas of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reports that MapLight's Florida data show the number of dark money groups in the state has risen from 67 to 155 since a pivotal 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision. These groups raised more than $13 million in Florida from unnamed sources in their last reported tax year, and they represent interests ranging from nursing home operators to eye doctors to activists for gay and lesbian rights — to interests that are not clear at all.

Much of the blame for this mess rests with the U.S. Supreme Court. The 2010 Citizens United decision opened the floodgates for corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of untraceable money on political speech. One terrible result is the proliferation of super political action committees, which can accept unlimited contributions but at least have to disclose their donors. Even worse is the spread of social welfare nonprofits, which exploit the court decision and tax law to accept unlimited, secret donations spent on political speech. As long as they claim they are not spending more than 49 percent of their total contributions on efforts to influence voters, they can get away with it.

Here's one example of how this legalized money laundering works. As Klas reported, the group "Our Florida Promise" created by nursing home owners and operators raised more than $280,000 in untraceable sources in its last reported tax year while raising political money through more traditional avenues that has to be publicly disclosed. Or take the Florida Optometry Eye Health Fund, a nonprofit that raised almost $800,000 from unnamed sources and then transferred $200,000 to its political committee. Or take Florida For Care, another group pushing for voters to approve a constitutional amendment allowing medical marijuana that raised more than $189,000 from unnamed sources.

The campaign finance laws designed to allow citizens to see who gave how much money to whom and for what are in shreds. Why give money directly to political candidates when there are limits on contributions and the donors have to be disclosed? Just write one big check to a super PAC, or write a big check to a social welfare organization that doesn't even have to disclose the donation. No need to write a check to a political committee advocating for a candidate or a change in state law or a constitutional amendment. Send the check to a social welfare organization that does not have to disclose its donors, and it can spend the money itself or bundle it in a big money transfer to a super PAC. The Center for Responsive Politics reported this week that a social welfare group supporting Sen. Marco Rubio's presidential bid received $13.5 million from one unnamed donor.

This is not just a Washington issue. This is a Florida issue as well. As the political campaigns heat up, voters should be demanding solutions from candidates for president, Florida's open U.S. Senate seat and U.S. House seats. If there is no way to reduce the special interest money in politics, there ought to at least be a way to require the sources of all that cash to be promptly identified.

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Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

Editorial: A court victory for protecting Florida’s environment

A Tallahassee judge has affirmed the overwhelming intent of Florida voters by ruling that state lawmakers have failed to comply with a constitutional amendment that is supposed to provide a specific pot of money to buy and preserve endangered lands. ...
Published: 06/18/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Editorial: Trump should stop taking children away from parents at the border

Innocent children should not be used as political pawns. That is exactly what the Trump administration is doing by cruelly prying young children away from their parents as these desperate families cross the Mexican border in search of a safer, better...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/19/18

Editorial: ATF should get tougher on gun dealers who violate the law

Gun dealers who break the law by turning a blind eye to federal licensing rules are as dangerous to society as people who have no right to a possess a firearm in the first place. Yet a recent report shows that the federal agency responsible for polic...
Published: 06/17/18
Updated: 06/18/18
Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

Editorial: Encouraging private citizens to step up on transit

The new grass-roots effort to put a transportation package before Hillsborough County voters in November faces a tough slog. Voters rejected a similar effort in 2010, and another in 2016 by elected officials never made it from the gate. But the lates...
Published: 06/15/18
Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Editorial: 40 years later, honoring remarkable legacy of Nelson Poynter

Forty years ago today, Nelson Poynter died. He was the last individual to own this newspaper, and to keep the Times connected to this community, he did something remarkable. He gave it away.In his last years, Mr. Poynter recognized that sooner or lat...
Published: 06/15/18

There was no FBI anti-Trump conspiracy

The Justice Department released Thursday the highly anticipated report on the FBI’s handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe and other sensitive issues in the 2016 election. It is not the report President Donald Trump wanted. But there is enough i...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Voter purge may be legal, but it’s also suppression

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Monday to allow Ohio’s purging of its voter rolls is difficult to dispute legally. While federal law prohibits removing citizens from voter rolls simply because they haven’t voted, Ohio’s purge is slightly different. T...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

Editorial: Free rides will serve as a test of whether the streetcar is serious transportation

Who wouldn’t jump at the chance to ride for free?This fall, the TECO Streetcar Line eliminates its $2.50-a-ride-fare, providing the best opportunity yet to see whether the system’s vintage streetcar replicas can serve as a legitimate transportation a...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/15/18

AT&T and the case for digital innovation

A good way to guarantee you’ll be wrong about something is to predict the future of technology. As in, "One day, we’ll all …" Experts can hazard guesses about artificial intelligence, driverless cars or the death of cable television, but technologica...
Published: 06/14/18
Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

Editorial: State, nonprofits share obligation to help Hillsborough’s foster kids

The Florida Department of Children and Families has correctly set a quick deadline for Hillsborough County’s main child welfare provider to correct its foster care program. For too long the same story has played out, where troubled teens who need fos...
Published: 06/14/18