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Should Dolphins owner's new PAC have registered in Florida?


Florida Jobs First, the political action committee that sent fliers last week attacking three Miami lawmakers, registered as an organization under the IRS. But should the group, created by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, also have filed paperwork with the Florida division of elections?

Yes, said elections attorney J.C. Planas, a former state representative who raised the issue after the Miami Herald reported about the fliers. A spokesman for the PAC disagreed.

The fliers criticized three Miami Republicans -- state Reps. Michael Bileca, Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo -- for opposing the Dolphins' quest earlier this year for public dollars to fund part of a $350 million renovation to Sun Life Stadium. That's "electioneering," argued Planas -- the term under Florida law for advocating for or against a political candidate.

"There's no other intent of this piece other than the defeat" of the lawmakers, Planas said. "You have to register" -- and periodically disclose the group's contributions and expenditures.

According to Planas, Florida Jobs First should have registered as an electioneering communications organization, or contributed funds to an existing ECO in Florida. It could have also paid for the fliers as a corporation but not as a political committee, identifying the fliers as an "independent expenditure" by a company  unaffiliated with any candidate or campaign, he said. (The fliers say they were "sponsored" by Florida Jobs First.)

In political advertising, every single word matters. The Florida Jobs First fliers do not explicitly tell recipients to vote for or against the lawmakers, or to elect or defeat them. The fliers weren't sent within 30 days of a primary election or 60 days of a general election. And the candidates targeted have not yet qualified for office -- all reasons why the PAC may consider that they are not an example of "electioneering." 

(A potential wrinkle: Trujillo, Diaz and Bileca have already opened reelection campaign accounts, a measure sometimes applied to figure out when someone becomes a "candidate" for political advertising purposes.)

The PAC sees no ambiguity and pointed to changes to Florida elections laws scheduled to kick in this fall.

"Given the changes in Florida laws, we felt it made sense to register as a Federal 527 for now with every intention of registering in Florida by the end of year when new laws kick in and we enter the 2014 election season," PAC spokesman Eric Jotkoff said in a written statement, referring to the group's IRS tax code. "We have local officers and a local address, and our focus is completely on Florida."

Violating registration rules could result in a fine by the Florida Elections Commission, which would only consider the issue if a valid complaint were filed against an organization.