January 16, 2013

Florida's flawed campaign finance laws come under scrutiny in House committee

Florida’s campaign finance system came under scrutiny Wednesday as the House Committee on Ethics and Elections began its review of the process that has allowed unchecked political committees to operate as candidate slush funds.

Gary Holland of the Division of Elections described the complex framework of rules and regulations that apply to candidates and political committees in Florida that has been morphed and modified as legislators respond to state and national court rulings.

The Committees of Continuing Existence, which were originally designed to be political committees for dues-gathering organizations, have become fundraising machines with the power to raise unlimited contributions and “basically give it to anybody,” Holland said.

Money can be spent on candidate travel, consultants, hotels and meals, gifts and even personal expenses, as long as they are deemed campaign related. It is a system that House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, believes if ripe for reform. He has called for the elimination of CCEs but the House has yet to draft legislation.

Integrity Florida, the independent ethics watchdog group, offered five fixes to the current system, including calling for the elimination of the $500 contribution limits to candidate campaigns in exchange for 24-hour disclosure.

“The reality is that money in politics today is dominated by unlimited donations with inadequate disclosure,’’ Krassner told the House committee. “Our goal should be to transition to a political financing system that maximizes transparency and accountability with candidates themselves becoming directly responsible for their own campaign activities.

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Are you ready for unlimited campaign donations to political committees?

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 coffers.

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 way.”

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. Story here. 

January 12, 2013

Three out of four $$ this election cycle went to no-limits committee accounts

Florida’s sputtering economy did not stop interest groups and donors from spending $306 million this election cycle on state political campaigns, according to final election year tallies released Friday.

The number is lower than the $550 million reported in the 2010 election cycle and does not include the massive amount of federal cash spent in the presidential race. But it points to a new trend: more dollars are going to campaign committees rather than individual candidates.

Three out of every four dollars were unlimited checks to political committees, while the rest went into the campaign accounts of individuals, which are capped at $500 a check.

The shift is a sign that Florida’s $500 limit is outdated and dysfunctional — and ripe for reform, said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, which did the analysis of the campaign finance data released by the Florida Division of Elections.

“Candidate accounts have become nearly irrelevant,’’ said Krassner. The current system allows corporations to write unlimited checks to political committees with loose affiliations to candidates but require them to give no more than $1000 to individual candidates for both the primary and general election. The result is, he said, “the public cannot easy follow the money.’’

House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who has called for an overhaul of the state’s campaign finance reforms said Friday the numbers prove his point that the political committees – known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs – have gotten out of hand. Story here.

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December 05, 2011

Lawmakers return, and that mean$$$ ...

The Florida Legislature returns to work this week for a final round of committee meetings before the start of the regular 2012 session on Jan. 10. But in addition to their legislative committee work, many lawmakers are taking advantage of the chance to collect campaign cash during a time of taxpayer-funded travel. It's their last opportunity to do that before the fund-raising window shuts for a couple of months (legislators cannot raise money in Tallahassee during the regular session).

Here's the schedule for the first two days of the week. Unless otherwise noted, all events are at the Governor's Club in downtown Tallahassee.

Monday

4:30-6 p.m. Rep. Gary Aubuchon for Congress

4:30-6 p.m. Rep. Will Snyder for Martin County Sheriff

4:30-6 p.m. Reps. Eric Eisnaugle and Kelli Stargel

5:30-7 p.m. Rep. Darryl Rouson and Rep,. Alan Williams, Andrews 228

5:30-7 p.m. Adam Hasner for U.S. Senate, Fiorentino Group, 200 W. College Avenue

Tuesday

12-1 p.m. Rep. Doug Holder and Rep. Rob Schenck

4:30-6 p.m. Rep. Peter Nehr

4:30-6 p.m. Rep. Brad Drake, Florida Association of Realtors

4:30-6 p.m. Rep. Bill Hager and Rep. Clay Ingram 

5 p.m. Rep. Gayle Harrell at Florida Dental Association

5 p.m. Sen. Anitere Flores

5 p.m. Sen. John Thrasher

5-6:30 p.m. Rep. Franklin Sands for Broward County School Board at Clyde's & Costello's

5-7 p.m. Rep. Chris Dorworth

5:30-7 p.m. Rep. Barbara Watson and Rep. Cynthia Stafford at Clyde's & Costello's

5:30-7 p.m. Rep. Charles Van Zant at Florida Retail Federation

5:30-7 p.m. Sen. Thad Altman at Florida Restaurant Association

5:30-7 p.m. Senate Republicans Welcome Back Reception at Hotel Duval

5:30-7:30 p.m. Rich Glorioso for Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections at Clyde's & Costello's

-- Steve Bousquet

July 27, 2011

October 01, 2010

Sink adds another $500k, Scott cuts another $1.1M check

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink added more $504,594 to her campaign coffers, bring her total collected to $9.2 million,according to a campaign finance report posted a few minutes ago. She spent about $47,500 during the same time.

Rick Scott's numbers for the week show he raised $117,580 in donations and cut another $1.1 million personal check to the campaign (which was spent on an ad buy). His donations this week are a little more than half of what he pulled down last week, $184k. He's almost broken the $1 million mark in hard money.

-- Michael C. Bender

September 09, 2010

Sink creates a no-limit political committee

Asked earlier this month about establishing a political committee to raise unfettered contributions, Alex Sink said this: "If my campaign decides to set up a 527, then the contributions will be fully transparent."

But her answer on Sept. 2 was less than transparent. State records show two days earlier, on Aug. 31, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate signed a form to solicit contributions and manage a 527 called Hold Them Accountable, Inc.

The committee was established two weeks earlier by the Sink campaign's lawyer, Ron Meyer, and lists a longtime Sink family friend, Liana Fox, as the chairperson. It received one contribution -- a $500 check -- from the campaign finance chairman, Richard Swann, an Orlando lawyer.

Asked about the misleading statement, Sink spokeswoman Kyra Jennings would only say "the campaign has followed the rules."

August 26, 2010

Bud Chiles calls for stricter campaign finance laws

On a leafy side street in a nice neighborhood in Tampa, independent candidate for governor Lawton "Bud" Chiles railed against Florida's campaign finance system while standing in front of an accounting office associated with dozens of political committees.

“This building behind me is ground zero for what’s wrong with FL politics," Chiles said. "What’s being hidden from Florida voters?

Chiles held his press conference outside Robert Watkins and Co, with the famous address (in political circles) of 610 South Boulevard. State records show that Nancy Watkins, is associated with 32 active political committees that raised just less than $12 million last year. Most of the committees are associated with Republican candidates or issues.

Watkins defended the committees: "I do believe in the public’s right and need to know. They report every penny in and out." Watkins said her one gripe is that some apparent campaign finance violations go unreported to the Florida Elections Commission.

-- Steve Bousquet

August 17, 2010

Scott puts $4 million into final ads

If you don't see Rick Scott on your TV in Florida this week, you're blind. Scott's campaign put $3.7 million behind it's final message, its largest single television advertising buy to date.

Scott is obliterating rival Bill McCollum -- with what seems like 5,000 different ads -- who at the moment plans to spend $1.6 million through the Aug. 24 primary.

With the primary a week away, Scott is poised to spend $38 million ($27 million on his own; $10 million from his political committee) while McCollum barely tops $13 million ($5.2 million from his campaign; $8 million from his political committees).

So the total spent: tops $50 million.

RGA hits Sink with attack ad

UPDATED: A new political committee -- with ties to the Republican Governor's Association -- is poised to hit Democrat Alex Sink with a familiar attack ad.

The group, Florida's Future Fund, is airing virtually the same ad the RGA hit Sink with earlier this year. It suggests she eliminated jobs in her role at Bank of America at the same time she took huge bonuses. ("Not one of us. One of them.") The main change is the tagline, which calls Sink a "financial disaster."

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