Florida’s campaign finance system is so riddled with holes that a
state ethics watchdog group will urge lawmakers Wednesday to open the
spigot and let an unlimited amount of campaign cash gush into campaign
Integrity Florida, a non-profit, independent ethics
advocacy organization, will tell the Houses Ethics and Elections
Committee that the state should allow no-limits campaign finance in
exchange for public disclosure of all donors.
Disclosure would be
made within 24 hours of every check deposited to any state or local
campaign account and every expenditure paid. The group also wants the
elimination of powerful political slush funds that whitewash funds and
shield donors, known as Committees of Continuous Existence.
"There is no evidence that caps on contributions are effective,’’
said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida. "The money
is going to find its way into the system. It is broken in every possible
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has
made eliminating CCEs a political priority, told the Herald/Times that
he is "open to considering” the removal of contribution limits.
"We already have a system that allows for unlimited money,’’ he said.
Party Chairman Lenny Curry said he supports any proposal "that creates
more transparency,” but would leave it to lawmakers to work out the
Democratic political consultant Steve Schale said ending
donation limits and requiring fast-track disclosure "is the only way to
get rid of the fiction of limits and open the gates of sunshine.”
proposal was unanimously supported by the board of Integrity Florida,
which includes the president of the Northwest Florida Tea Party Mike
Hill, the executive director of the First Amendment Foundation Barbara
Petersen, and retired associate editor of the St. Petersburg Times,
For about two decades,
Florida has required political contributors to limit donations to
candidates to $500 in the primary and another $500 in the general
election. But those limits have been outmatched by a flood of money
pouring into the system in the era of Super PACs and the 2010 landmark
U.S. Supreme Court decision to recognize corporate contributions as
In the 2011-12 election cycle, Integrity Florida
found that $230 million of the $306 million raised — about three out of
four dollars — went to parties and political committees, which skirt
the campaign finance limits and were subject to fewer disclosure rules.
of those CCEs are controlled by legislators and used to raise money,
which they transfer to other campaigns or use to pay for meals, travel,
car expenses and even gifts. The process has allowed the Legislature’s
most powerful lawmakers to amass more clout during the election cycle as
they transfer funds to the campaigns and committees of other members in
an attempt to consolidate power.
In the last cycle, lawmakers
who have risen to the most powerful posts in the House and Senate,
raised more money in their political committees than most special
interest groups in Florida. Most of the money was transferred to other
accounts, leaving the public no clear trail to follow the money.
Senate Ethics and Elections Committee chairman, Sen. Jack Latvala,
R-St. Petersburg, said he wants to close those spending loopholes by
banning the use of CCE funds on gifts and meals. But he does not want to
eliminate CCEs. Latvala is also not a fan of removing the contribution
limit because he believes the $1000 per-cycle contribution cap is