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Leadership funds begin to re-emerge

With all the problems in how political parties spend money, top Florida lawmakers are one step closer to getting the power to raise unlimited contributions and direct how the money is spent.

But don't call them leadership funds -- which were previously banished -- call them APCs. (Yes, one more acronym in a town that speaks only in capital letters.) It stands for affiliated party committees, which is, in essence, a leadership fund.

The language creating these APCs is attached to a bill that fixes the law concerning ECOs -- Electioneering Communication Organizations -- which was struck down in a court decision as unconstitutional. Without regulation, we are currently in "the wild wild West," said bill sponsor Rep. Seth McKeel, a Lakeland Republican, pointing to the recent special election in the Jacksonville area. 

The new law differs in two ways: it sets a time line for regulation, 30 days before a primary election and 60 days before the election, and it adds telephone calls and direct mail to the list of regulated communications -- which is more expansive than the court suggested. 

Despite the call for transparency, however, the new APCs could bring less transparency when it comes to the special Committees of Continuous Existence controlled by leaders like Rep. Dean Cannon and Mike Haridopolos. Right now, under state law and legislative rules, lawmaker-controlled CCEs must post on a website any expenditures o contributions within 10 days. But, if the new leadership funds are allowed and the lawmakers disband their CCEs, then their campaign activity won't be disclosed within 10 days. Instead, they'll disclose their finance activity quarterly.

The bill passed on a party line vote with Democrats objecting. Beyond the "influence of money" argument, Democrats (the minority party) are concerned about the double-edged sword of disclosure. If a special interest gives them money, now Republicans will know, and the fear of retribution will keep special interests from making the contribution.