House Speaker Will Weatherford on Friday slapped back the suggestion that his proposal to radically change campaign finance laws -- including the elimination of lawmaker political committees -- is a surreptitious move to keep power in the hands of Tallahassee's politically annointed.
Weatherford and House leaders filed a proposal Wednesday that would, among other things, lift the current cap on campaign contributions from $500 to $10,000 per election, and from $1,000 to $20,000 per election cycle, and eliminate lawmaker Committees of Continuous Existence or CCEs. CCEs allow lawmakers to collect unlimited amounts of contributions, and then funnel that money back into individual campaigns or third-party Electioneering Communications Organizations.
The lawmaker committees have come under fire in recent years over accusations that they are being used for lavish travel, meals and other quasi-personal expenses.
But the committees can also be used for lawmakers to help get like-minded colleagues elected -- particularly lawmakers who may not always see eye-to-eye with top state party leaders.
Enter maverick Tampa Bay Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who raised and spent about $1.8 million from his CCE during the last election cycle. Latvala, who chairs the committee dealing with campaign finance reform, has been cool to the idea of eliminating CCEs completely and has suggested lawmakers take a more modest step instead -- preventing using the funds for personal purposes.
Why is Latvala dragging his feet on the complete elimination of CCEs?
"I call it political posturing," Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told the Tampa Bay Times Friday.
Weatherford said state law allows lawmakers or their advocates to accept unlimited contributions either through a CCE or an Electioneering Communications Organizations or ECO. The difference is ECOs can directly advocate for candidates and CCEs cannot (they must filter their money either to a candidate or ECO).
"What's Jack's logic for needing a CCE? We need the middle man?" Weatherford asked.
Weatherford made his comments about campaign finance reform while addressing the Tampa Bay Times editorial board. In other areas, Weatherford said he could support a proposal to tax Internet sales if it was revenue neutral and that many details of a proposal to emphasize online university education still need to be worked out -- including what current university would act as the hub for the effort. He voiced support for Florida's Future Corridors program, which would place new toll roads in rural communities to potentially increase development, and he agreed with Senate President Don Gaetz that Florida's K-12 merit pay system needs to tweaked.