After four hours of debate, the St. Petersburg City Council voted to become a pioneer in local campaign finance reform Thursday and likely invited a legal challenge that could end up in the U.S. Supreme Court. A measure championed by City Council chairwoman Darden Rice and supported by Mayor Rick Kriseman, currently locked in what has become by far the most expensive race in the city’s history, would limit individual political action committee contributions to $5,000 and ban donations from companies that are more than 5 percent foreign owned. The 6-2 vote, with council members Jim Kennedy and Ed Montanari voting no, was a moment of high drama with Rice and council member Charlie Gerdes personally imploring their colleague, Amy Foster, to set aside her concerns about enforcement and join them.
Foster did, saying she was persuaded by Gerdes’ argument that voters would enforce the ordinance by rejecting candidates that flaunted the ordinance and its meager $500 fine.
After the vote, red-clad supporters, many of them members of the League of Women Voters of the St. Petersburg Area, which provided consistently large, vocal crowds at more than 16 months of committee meetings, erupted in cheers and applause. The league’s president, Julie Kessel and the group’s point person on the issue, Karen Lieberman, collapsed into a tearful hug with John Bonifaz, a constitutional attorney.