Amended Campaign Finance Bill Cuts Original House Proposal In Half, But Still Draws Concerns

Mar 14, 2013

Florida’s efforts to reform the state’s elections system are moving forward. A House panel looked at one aspect of that during a committee meeting Thursday. The group considered a measure that would change the state’s campaign finance rules. Supporters say the bill will increase transparency, but others worry it will just end up putting more money in the system.

In its last committee before its scheduled to hit the House floor, lawmakers filed an amendment, making some changes to the chambers campaign finance reform proposal. Representative Rob Schenck (R-Spring Hill) who sponsored the bill, offered the change. He said the goal with the bill is to create more transparency in the state’s election system through changes in campaign contribution limits and reporting timelines.

“First of all, it eliminates CCEs. It moves campaign contribution limits from 500 dollars where it is now, to $5,000 for statewide offices or Florida Supreme Court justices and $3,000 for every other office,” Schenck said.

That’s a change of about $5,000 from Schenk’s initial proposal. Originally the House’s campaign finance bill had proposed a 10-thousand dollar limit on contributions—a number that drew concerns from some House Democrats as well as members of the Senate leadership. And even with the new proposed cap, Representative Dwayne Taylor (D-Daytona Beach) said he worries about what such well-funded war chests could mean for the little guy.

“What I’m fearful of, Mr. chair, is that elections will now be bought, by big businesses and corporations that elections will now be bought by big businesses and corporations and organizations that have the ability to write those maximum contributions. And so if you have corporation that’s out there that has 50 other corporations, now you’re able to pour in a whole lot of money,” Taylor said.

The Schenck amendment also reduces the amount of money a candidate can roll over for their next campaign. The original bill allowed up to a $100,000. The change allows a candidate to roll over up to $50,000 dollars. In addition, the bill would allow unlimited contributions to political committees, and require people running for a political party's executive committee to follow the same campaign finance rules as candidates for elected office. Representative Darryl Rouson, a Democrat from St. Petersburg proposed three amendments to Schenk’s amendment, including one that would keep campaign contributions at the current $500 limit and another that would block the $50,000 dollar carry over.

“The import of it is to reduce incumbent protectionism so that if a citizen feels like they want to exercise their constitutional right to be a part of the process, they don’t feel behind in the race because they’re going up against an incumbent that has rolled over money from a previous campaign,” Rouson said.

Representative Schenk said he disagrees. Saying he thinks letting lawmakers roll their funds over will mean there’ll be less fundraising. But Representative Mike Fasano, a Republican from New Port Richey, said he doubts that’s true.

“If anyone thinks that being able to carry over $50,000 will stop the amount of fund raising that we see right before session, they haven’t been in Tallahassee very long. It’s all about fundraising unfortunately, whether you roll over $50,000 or not. That’s going to continue to happen. Let’s not contribute to the process in allowing more money to play into the political role here,” Fasano said.

None the less, all of Rouson’s proposed amendments failed. Schenk’s amendment passed. Meanwhile, the Florida League of Women Voters said while this bill does make some improvements compared to current law, it shares concerns about the $5,000 contribution limit as well as the rollover provision. The measure passed out of the committee and is now heading to the House Floor.

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