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  1. Opinion

Editorial: Jolly's smart shot at campaign finance reform

U.S. Rep. David Jolly has a big idea in a little four-page bill. The Indian Shores Republican wants to ban federal officeholders from directly seeking campaign contributions.
U.S. Rep. David Jolly has a big idea in a little four-page bill. The Indian Shores Republican wants to ban federal officeholders from directly seeking campaign contributions.
Published Jan. 18, 2016

U.S. Rep. David Jolly has a big idea in a little four-page bill. The Indian Shores Republican wants to ban federal officeholders from directly seeking campaign contributions. It's a long shot in an election-year Congress whose members are obsessed with raising money and self-preservation, but it is a serious proposal from a serious lawmaker that deserves careful consideration.

Jolly takes a targeted, straightforward approach in the legislation he plans to roll out today. He argues that members of Congress spend far too much time raising money when they should be focused on governing, and there are plenty of statistics and examples that illustrate those skewed priorities. Incumbents from both parties calculate how many hours they have to spend on the phone raising money to keep their jobs, while this Congress has been one of the least productive in modern history.

There are other obvious reasons it would be smart to put some distance between fundraising and lawmaking. The connection between campaign contributions and public policy has been documented time and again. It would help if members of Congress could not directly solicit contributions, even if the incumbents' campaigns could still do it for them. Jolly's legislation does not take the big money out of elections or change existing contribution limits to campaigns, but at least it would keep the fundraising at arm's length from incumbents and allow them to focus on their jobs.

The nation badly needs broad campaign finance reform. As a result of bad court decisions that began with the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United opinion in 2010, money is considered speech, and corporations and unions are essentially considered the same as individuals. Those decisions have given rise to the super political action committees, which can raise unlimited contributions and have to disclose their contributors, and the "social welfare" nonprofits, which do not have to disclose where their money comes from. Former Gov. Jeb Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio are among the presidential candidates benefitting from both super PACs and political nonprofits, and the big money flows to those organizations rather than directly to candidate campaigns. Yet Congress has no interest in finding a solution.

The outsized influence of these groups is not limited to the presidential campaigns. In the special U.S. House election Jolly won in 2014 in Pinellas, outside groups far outspent the candidates and controlled the messages with their television attack ads. Now a U.S. Senate candidate, Jolly has left that issue for another day and taken a narrow approach that would only affect any elected federal official — the president, vice president and members of Congress. The change would not apply to candidates for federal office who are not incumbents, and Jolly believes that would help overcome concerns about limiting free speech. After all, reasonable restrictions on raising campaign money have been upheld for incumbents. Judicial candidates in Florida cannot directly solicit campaign contributions, and state legislators cannot raise money when the Legislature is in session. Members of Congress cannot solicit political contributions from their government offices.

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Jolly plans to voluntarily abide by his legislation during his Senate campaign, and he expects to attract other sponsors of the bill from both political parties. Banning elected federal officials from directly soliciting campaign contributions would not eliminate the need for broader campaign finance reform. But it would be a start, and it would send the signal that Congress is serious about an problem that fuels voter distrust and cynicism about government.

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