Senate Passes Campaign Finance Bill, Sends to Crist
If campaign finance is going to be ugly – people should at least see who is making that way.
That was essentially the argument from Republican backers of a wide-ranging campaign finance bill passed Wednesday evening by the Senate and sent to Gov. Charlie Crist.
The bill returns to law something akin to leadership funds that allow top lawmakers to raise and dole out cash to candidates separately from the political parties.
And it seeks to bring some new reporting requirements to “electioneering communication organizations” which had been since a recent court decision able to run attack ads with little information about who was behind them.
The 25-11 vote on the already House-passed bill (HB 1207) Wednesday evening came over the objection of several Democrats who seemed largely to oppose the bill because it didn't go farther in regulating the campaign finance system. Republicans agreed that it doesn't change much – except making things more open for all to see who is doing the nefarious things both sides complain go on in modern elections.
Sen. Ted Deutch, D-Boca Raton, who is running for Congress, said the Legislature shouldn't open up the process “to let people see the six figure contributions that are coming in from special interests. We should ban them.”
Arguments in the Senate mirrored those in the House where Democrats had said the bill was mainly a reaction to recent excesses in the Republican Party rather than an answer to a deeper and wider election problem.
In the Senate, Democrats also argued against the bill's creation of affiliated party committees – which are pretty much the same as the leadership funds outlawed by the Legislature 20 years ago. The APCs will be controlled by House and Senate leaders – the speaker, the president and the minority leaders – apart from the political parties.
“They got rid of them in 1989 because it looked like lobbyists were buying influence with legislative leaders,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa. “Boy, with leadership funds, you're now giving people the power to raise unlimited amounts of money. That money will be solely under the control of the leaders, not under the control of the state Democratic and Republican Parties.”
Republican backers of the bill argued essentially that whatever bad may arise from the return of leadership funds, it's already basically being done anyway. The bill would shed more light on it because the money won't be all mingled together in some less visible party pot.
“Money's being raised,” said Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island. “We want to make it so the funds aren't in one big pool. We want to separate it out so people can be accountable.... this is sunshine. People deserve to know when they see the commercials on TV where the money came from. We are opening up the books.”
The bill's Senate sponsor, JD Alexander, R-Lake Wales, also took the argument that the measure doesn't allow anything that isn't already taking place.
“It does not allow the first thing to happen that can't happen today,” said Alexander. “It only adds accountability and transparency to the current process.”