Gov. Rick Scott’s opposition to raising the $500 cap on political contributions to candidates will probably sink campaign-finance reform for the 2013 session, the Senate sponsor of a new elections package said Tuesday. The Senate Rules Committee cleared the two biggest political bills of the year for floor action, voting along party lines for a bill intended to fix the long lines and balloting problems that haunted Florida’s elections in November and approving a plan to abolish the shadowy “committees of continuous existence” that candidates can use as political slush funds. But each bill picked up potentially troublesome provisions that will be hard to work out in the final three weeks of the session. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, sponsored both bills. In March, the House OK’d a finance package raising the $500 cap on contributions to $5,000 per donor in statewide races and Supreme Court retention votes, and $3,000 for district and county races. The Senate bill initially proposed a $3,000 cap but the Rules Committee adopted an amendment lowering the maximum to $500 in all races — the same as it is now. The governor said recently he opposes raising the limit, which was set in 1992.
“My feeling is that the governor has probably sapped the energy out of passing a campaign-finance bill this session,” Latvala said. “They (the House) were motivated and they were easing the cloak of getting rid of CCEs to try to raise these contribution levels; if we’re not going to raise the contribution levels, then why would we particularly need campaign-finance reform?”
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, made eliminating the CCEs one of his top reform priorities this year. At first he wanted to raise the limit on individual campaign contributions to $5,000, but the House settled on $3,000.
Latvala’s bill (SB 1382) would start decertifying CCEs next Sept. 30. It would also require more frequent campaign-finance reporting for candidates and remaining political committees, as well as the “electioneering communication organizations” that are often bankrolled by industries or trade associations to run supposedly independent attack advertising against a candidate or boosting another candidate.
Jennifer Lowe Minor of the League of Women Voters and Brad Ashwell of Common Cause Florida objected to provisions allowing elected officials to stash $20,000 in a political fund for future uses. They said that gives incumbents an unfair advantage against challengers who have to start raising money from scratch.
Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon, said the $500 campaign contribution limit was set in 1992 “and the consumer price index has eroded that by two-thirds.” He added that “$20,000 hardly gets you to the starting line” in modern campaigning.
The elections package (SB 600) would extend early voting from eight days to up to 14 days, with counties given discretion to add multiple sites at fairgrounds, civic centers and other large gathering sites with plenty of parking. It also applies the 75-word summary limit to constitutional amendments put on the ballot by the Legislature and allows, but does not require, early voting on the Sunday before Election Day.
Full Article: Elections bills set for Senate debate | The Florida Current.