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Limits sought on election financing

Published Oct. 1, 2005

House and Senate Democrats say they will ask Gov. Lawton Chiles to keep bringing legislators back in special session if they cannot get Republicans to ban independent expenditures in elections.

The chambers are close to agreement on an election reform bill, but have yet to resolve provisions that restrict or ban last-minute expenditures from independent groups.

"We want meaningful reform this year," said House Minority Leader Buzz Ritchie, D-Pensacola. "It's milquetoast, Pablum unless we include independent expenditures."

Ritchie and Senate Minority Leader Ken Jenne, D-Fort Lauderdale, said limiting independent expenditures is the only way to reform elections.

House Speaker Daniel Webster, R-Orlando, said the two Democrats may be jumping the gun.

"We haven't even taken up the bill in conference yet," said Webster, referring to the legislative conference committee charged with resolving the differences. "We're willing to ban independent expenditures, foreign contributions and union money _ it may be more than they want."

Jenne and Ritchie are especially bitter about the more than $700,000 dumped into legislative races at the last minute last year. The money came from the National Republican Senatorial Committee in Washington to help 19 Republicans win legislative races.

The Republican money came after Democrats started the spending spree with Washington money that was designed to defeat Sen. W.G. "Doc" Myers, R-Hobe Sound. Myers won, while several key Democrats fell to defeat.

Jenne and Ritchie said they are willing to accept limits on what unions can give if their fellow legislators are willing to approve other limits on independent money.

"We have to bring sense and order to campaign spending," Ritchie said.

Jenne wants to limit all out-of-state contributions to $100 each. Ritchie said he would support the limit, but is not sure about his fellow House members.

If the election reform bill passes without limiting outside expenditures, Jenne said he is prepared to ask Gov. Lawton Chiles to keep bringing legislators back in special session "until we get it right."