A bill transforming how voters can give money to candidates for public office is heading to Governor Rick Scott’s desk after passing both houses of the Florida Legislature on Wednesday. But, although campaign finance has been a priority for lawmakers, the governor is hinting that he will veto the measure.
Let’s say a Florida voter likes a candidate running in his Florida House district. He wants to make a contribution to help elect her. One option is he can write a check to her campaign. The current upper limit for his contribution is $500, but the bill the Legislature passed on Wednesday raises that cap to $1,000, and to $3,000 if she’s a statewide candidate, like for the U.S. Senate.
Governor Scott said, he’s not on board with raising the limit, which means the entire bill could be in jeopardy when it gets to his desk.
“I continue to say this; no one’s shown me a rationale for raising these limits. So I don’t know why we’d be doing it. I haven’t seen a rationale yet,” Scott said after the bill passed the Senate.
Now back to the voter who wants to contribute. He also has a few other options: He can donate to the candidate’s political party, or he can send money to one of the political committees that will advertise on her behalf. Under the bill, the amount he can contribute to these committees remains unlimited. Sen. Darren Soto (D-Kissimmee) introduced an amendment that would have limited this type of contribution to $25,000.
“The exceptions that we have right now are big enough to drive a freight train through. You can do individual limits, but then you can contribute millions of dollars to political committees and the like,” he said.
But the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) said, House and Senate leadership had already agreed to compromise on their versions of the bill, and any changes could jeopardize its passage. Latvala said, even though he’d like to see contribution limits to political committees, the bill still accomplishes some good.
“The Supreme Court is heading in the direction of no limits of what you can give in a political campaign because of free speech considerations. So the best we’re going to be able to do in the long run is just try to provide the transparency to go with that, to have good reporting, to close the loopholes,” he said.
The bill would require candidates to report contributions daily just before an election and more regularly at other times.
The bill also bans one type of political committee, the Committee of Continuous Existence, which lawmakers say is shadowy because it doesn’t have to disclose donors when running ads for its candidate.
Open-government advocacy group Common Cause applauds the closure of CCEs, but Brad Ashwell, with the group, said, the unlimited money can now just go into other types of committees.
“From our perspective, this is a farce as far as it’s concerned. It’s not a real campaign finance bill. It’s paying lip service to the issue. It started off aggressively pursuing transparency and didn’t go far enough with that. It does things that create incumbency protections.”
The bill would allow incumbents to roll over $20,000 in contributions to the next election cycle. Sen. Jeff Clemens (D-Lake Worth) said, that’s why he can’t support the bill.
“When I won my first house race, I raised $60,000. That’s a third of what I would have needed to win to the race. It may not be significant for a race for state senate. But for some of these House races, keeping $20,000 in an account gives someone a large, unfair advantage in a race,” he said.
Senate debate on the bill was minimal, though, as Sen. Latvala reminded his colleagues of the deal that had been struck with the House, which had originally proposed individual contribution limits of $10,000 instead of $3,000.
“This is it. I mean, this is the bill they’re going to pass. I mean, we’re basically taking the bill that they’ve sent us, we’re putting the agreed-upon language on it, it’s going back down there and they’re passing it,” he said.
The bill passed almost unanimously in the Senate, 37 to 2. The House passed the bill along party lines, 79 to 34.
But Gov. Scott is threatening to veto the entire measure. He remains at a standoff with the Legislature over one of his priorities this session. Scott wants across-the-board pay raises for teachers, while the Legislature proposes merit-based raises.