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House beefs up regulators as it keeps campaign finance bill moving

Despite a shower of complaints from Democrats, another House committee approved a bill to revamp how money is channeled in political elections and raised the budget to add state regulators to monitor the process. 

The House Appropriations Committee voted along party lines to approve a bill the will eliminate the controversial Committees of Continuing Existence, raise the cap on contributions form $500 to $10,000 and allow up to $100,000 to be transferred from committees and candiates to other committees and candidates.

The committee amended the bill to provide three additional staff to the Secretary of State’s office to monitor the increased reporting requirements in the bill. Under the plan, political committees and candidates would be required to submit daily reports on their contributions during the last 10 days of the election cycle. Political parties, which would be allowed to continue accepting unlimited checks any time during the campaign cycle, would be exempt from the accelerated transparency requirement.

The bill “brings the greatest transparency to the political world in the United States,’’ said Rep. Rob Schenck, R-Spring Hill, the sponsor of the bill.

Democrats, however, disagreed the bill will result in true reform. They tried and failed to amend the bill to lower the campaign contribution cap back to the existing level of $500 and to allow organizations such as unions, who make multiple small contributions, to consolidate their contributions under the reporting requirements.

“Unfortunately the end result will be the same game with a different name,’’ said Rep. Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. "With this language, we’re going to approve a volume -- millions on a monthly basis -- of individual donor information that is leading to us increasing the dollars we spend at the department of state to basically handle the bill."

Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, the newly elected Democratic leader for 2014, echoed those concerns. “This bill does not go far enough,’’ he said.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, said she was personally uncomfortable with a provision in the bill that allows candidates and political committees to retain $100,000 in their campaign accounts for the next election.

“That doesn’t speak for fair elections. It speaks to incumbency protection,’’ she said.

Republicans countered that there is already unlimited campaign cash in the system but transparency is needed.

“The United States Supreme Court  has decided that contributiong to political parties is a form of free speech,’’ said Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando. “What we’re doing is a great step in the right direction, especially the transparency requirements.”