March 11, 2013

As House and Senate compromise, mega PACs emerge as replacement for CCEs

Political slush funds will get a new name and campaign finance limits will rise for statewide candidates under a Senate campaign finance bill that won unanimous approval by a Senate committee on Monday.

The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is intended as a compromise to a House plan that makes similar changes and is a top priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Weatherford wants to put an end to the abuse of political committees known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs, by legislators who raise unlimited funds, write checks to other candidates and finance personal entertainment, travel, meals and other lavish expenses. Former Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who was slated to succeed Weatherford as House speaker in 2016 was voted out of office because of perceived abuses of his CCE. 

The Senate bill, SB 1382, abolishes CCEs and raises the contribution limit for candidates for statewide office from $500 to $3000, to $2000 for candidates for the district courts of appeal and leaves the cap at $500 for everyone else. The House bill, HB 569, also ends CCEs but raises the political contribution limits to $10,000. Weatherford said the committee is prepared to lower that amount when it meets on Wednesday.

Despite the changes, several senators on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voiced their skepticism that SB 1382 will change much behavior. 

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March 07, 2013

Weatherford: Embrace most of Senate ethics bill and lower campaign caps

House Speaker Will Weatherford said Thursday the House Ethics and Elections Committee next week will take up a bill that embraces most of the Senate's ethics bill and another that will "dramatically" reduce the the $10,000 cap on campaign contributions.

Gov. Rick Scott said Wednesday he could not support the House cap on campaign contributions and Weatherford said a new version, which is being drafted now, "will have that number come down dramatically."

In its place will be a tiered cap, Weatherford told the Herald/Times. A similar bill (SB 1382) has been proposed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, that would raise contributions from $500 to $3,000 for statewide offices such as governor, Cabinet and Supreme Court merit retention races but leave the cap at $500 for legislative and countywide races. The Senate bill is scheduled for a hearing on Monday.

But, Weatherford said, the House proposed caps will be higher. Latvala's proposed levels "are better but still too low,'' he said. "If we have the $500 cap, we can all pat ourselves on the back and say that's great we're having cap but there's no cap on (Scott's political committee) 'Let's Get to Work,''' or on other electioneering and communications organizations that are regulated under federal law.

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March 06, 2013

Gov. Rick Scott tells House he's not a fan of exploding campaign finance cap

In another sign that Florida Gov. Rick Scott is moving to the populist middle, the govenor's aides told Florida House leaders Wednesday that he cannot support their plan to raise campaign contribution caps from $500 to $10,000 in exchange for more rigorous disclosure.

"What we’ve told the House is that when they do that they reduce the importance of the individual who can only write a $500 check so I think they ought to really look at that a lot more closely,'' Scott said Wednesday in an interview with the Herald/Times. "I want to see what they come back with but we’ve got to try to keep as many people involved in the process as we can.''

Scott, who spent more than $73 million of his own money to get elected, has collected dozens of five and six digit contributions through his political committee, Let's Get to Work. Three of the contributions in the last year were for $250,000 -- from Florida Power & Light, resort casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and AutoNation Founder Wayne Huizenga.  

The House is moving a top priority bill of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, that would eliminate the political slush funds known as Committees of Continuous Existence, raise the campaign finance cap to $10,000 from the current $500 per campaign, and require accelerated disclosure of all campaign finance contributions.

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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.

Top accounts:

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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."