Florida’s wide-open race for governor won’t be decided for another six months, but it’s already triggered a wave of expensive television ad buys from groups taking advantage of gray areas in the state’s campaign finance laws. Campaigns are interpreting the law so liberally — and some experts think they will get away with it — that it could essentially render the laws meaningless. So far, at least $13 million has been spent on television ads in the governor’s race that includes two Republicans and four Democrats vying for the job that will be vacated by Gov. Rick Scott. Television ads are poised to play a crucial role in the race since polls continue to show a majority of the state’s voters don’t really know the Republican or Democratic candidates vying to replace him.
Some of the ads are being paid for by groups that insist they have no legal obligation to disclose who’s paying for them. Other ads are being coordinated with campaigns relying on their own legal interpretation to sidestep laws and rules intended to place limits on ad campaigns being funded by large donors.
But the surge of ads highlights Florida’s arcane and loosely regulated campaign finance system. Over the years, the Republican-controlled Legislature has made it easier for candidates and their allies to raise large amounts of money, while at the same time making it harder for the state’s elections commission to go after those who violate the law.
“Florida really has no campaign finance laws,” joked Christian Ulvert, a political consultant who is a senior adviser for the campaign of Philip Levine, the former mayor Miami Beach running for the Democratic nomination for governor.