TALLAHASSEE — U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Indian Shores, has built his bid for the Senate around campaign finance reforms. But as a lobbyist five years ago, he did some of what he now says should be illegal.
In a debate two weeks ago with U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Orlando, Jolly said lobbyists should not be allowed to give money to members of Congress that they're trying to persuade on behalf of clients.
"If you're a registered lobbyist who has declared you are lobbying the banking committee, then you can't contribute to anybody who sits on the banking committee," he said. "We could do that by an act of Congress today."
From 2007 to 2011, federal election records show Jolly personally gave $16,050 to members of the House and Senate appropriations committees. At the same time, he advocated for various clients — including defense contractor STS International, Florida Keys Community College and BayCare Health System — on budget issues before those same committees.
He gave $7,500 to then-Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida; $2,300 to then-Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., of Illinois; and $1,000 each to then-Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois and Rep. Pete Visclosky of Indiana, all Democrats.
Jolly contributed to Republicans' campaigns, as well, though many of them were not on appropriations committees.
A group called Issue One, which is former members of Congress who advocate for campaign finance changes, first gave Jolly the idea to limit contributions from lobbyists, he said.
It's also part of Jolly's broader transformation from lobbyist to congressman, which has been a hot topic in his Senate primary campaign against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera of Miami, Bradenton developer Carlos Beruff and Orlando defense contractor Todd Wilcox.
Notably, Jolly has proposed banning members of Congress from directly asking for money and said he won't return to lobbying after he leaves elected office.
His opponents have hurled criticism, pointing to the money he has given members of both parties and calling him a "Washington insider."
Wilcox wrote in an email to supporters that it's "an election year gimmick" for Jolly to push for campaign finance changes when eight months ago, he personally solicited donations.
Jolly said he gained a new perspective after being elected, which he says is why he decided to shine a spotlight on campaign finance — despite his personal history.
"I wasn't focused on congressional reforms at that time because I wasn't sitting in a member's chair, feeling like I have to honor the sanctity of the institution," Jolly said. "Today, I do."
Contact Michael Auslen at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @MichaelAuslen.