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Crist Okays Tighter Regulation of Political Groups

Shadowy political spending organizations likely to fill Florida’s political landscape this election year would again be regulated by state officials under legislation signed into law Friday by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Without comment, Crist approved HB 131, a wide-ranging elections bill that includes a provision that requires electioneering communications organizations (ECOs) to file paperwork on who is behind them, while also reporting their contributions and expenditures.

The measure, supported by Florida Common Cause and the League of Women Voters, is the latest step on a tortured path to bring more transparency to ECOs’ spending.

A federal court last year declared unconstitutional Florida’s previous electioneering communications law.

Crist earlier this year vetoed a second attempt at regulation when it was included in legislation that revived banned “leadership funds.” These accounts would have given House and Senate leaders direct control over millions of dollars in campaign contributions now held by state parties, a step Crist opposed but which put him at odds with Republican leaders.

Crist signed the latest version of the ECO measure as part of legislation addressing overseas voting and including a delay by four-years of a planned requirement that would have forced counties to provide a paper-ballot voting system for disabled voters by 2012.

That delay helped spark calls for Crist to veto the legislation from the ACLU and organizations representing disabled voters. Supporters of Amendment 4, which would require that major changes to local planning standards go before voters, also wanted Crist to veto the measure.

Backers of Amendment 4 – dubbed Hometown Democracy -- were angered by a provision of the new legislation that relaxes a year-old restriction on campaign activities by cities and counties. Many local governments oppose Hometown Democracy, saying it takes development decisions away from elected officials.

Hometown Democracy supporters say city and county leaders are easily influenced by powerful development interests. The legislation signed by Crist is expected to let governments work more openly against Amendment 4.

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