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Glitch in new law to abolish CCEs sets up a summer dead zone for fundraisers

Florida’s attempt to outlaw political slush funds has created a fundraising snafu that could inadvertently put political committees out of business for three months this summer – and potentially complicate fundraising for Miami’s mayoral race.

The new law, which took effect May 1 (HB 569), prohibits Committees of Continuous Existence from accepting contributions after July 31, allows unlimited amounts of money in the defunct CCE to be transferred to a political committee, but it doesn’t allow political committees to accept contributions of more than $500 from any contributor until Nov. 1.

It’s the law of unintended consequences and it is giving political activists heartburn.

“Most of what happens between Aug. 1 and November is going to be dead time,’’ said John French, a Tallahassee lawyer and expert on elections law. “There’s a very Zen-like nature to this bill. It’s really unfortunate.”

But what may be dead time for most elected officials is heavy duty campaign season for the Nov. 5 election for the City of Miami mayor and commission seats.

As a result of the snafu, candidates will be forced to close their CCE and then be limited to collecting contributions of $500 for their political committees during most of the campaign. They will be able to raise money for their electioneering communications organizations, which can spend on television ads and campaign, but can’t legally coordinate with the campaign to do it.

 “This law is going to be beta tested in Miami,’’ said Tallahasee lobbyist Chris Moya.

The fundraising blackout is just one of a handful of unintended consequences emerging from the law that was pushed as a top priority of Florida’s legislative leaders, according to French and Jennifer Blohm, elections law experts who spoke to members of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists on Wednesday.

Another potential problem: the legislature abolished the section of the law that regulates CCEs -- including all requirements that they report who gives to them and who they give too -- but it added a new requirement to the abolished section that requires CCEs to report how they disperse the money before they close.

“I don’t say this to insult anyone but this bill is not exactly a model of something the Legislature should take pride in the way it was put together,’’ French told the group.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee who shepherded the ethics and elections bill through the Senate, said the language to eliminate CCEs and set up the awkward effective dates was written by the House. He said he realized it included the glitches only after Gov. Rick Scott had signed it into law.

“It’s going to limit the big donors between July 31 and Nov. 1 but you can still raise $500 checks,’’ Latvala said. It will mean that politically committees – which on Nov. 1 will be allowed to accept unlimited contributions – “will be shut down for three months. That’s not the end of the world.”

French told the group that the law was intended to end the perception that some legislators were using the CCEs as personal slush funds by using fundraising money on “lavish dinners at Club 101, buying personal gasoline and what the president of the Senate called a champagne lifestyle.”

But “instead of changing the behavior of their own members” they decided to abolish CCEs. “They used an atom bomb instead of a mousetrap,” he said.The funds collected by most CCEs in Florida will be transferred to political committees and after Nov. 1 will operate much like them. “A year from now, you’re probably not going to know the difference,’’ he said. “It will make a handful of people who were the troublemakers in the process clean up their acts. It will have the desired effect.”