In stark contrast to the way lawmakers tried earlier this year to rein in shadowy electioneering groups in a broad campaign finance bill that was ultimately vetoed, the House quietly passed and sent to Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday a second attempt to put some regulations on 527 organizations.
The electioneering communications organizations, sometimes called 527s for the section of IRS code that deals with them, have torpedoed campaigns with little accountability since a federal court ruling said the old regulations on the groups were unconstitutional in a Broward County case.
A bill passed earlier this session sought to restore some regulations on the groups, in an effort to let voters and candidates know more about who is behind them. But that bill also included a proposal to allow new types of funding organizations similar to leadership funds. Those would allow legislative leaders control of large amounts of cash for legislative races that would be separate from party funds.
The Republican majority trumpeted passage of the bill on both accounts, but Crist vetoed it, citing the leadership funds.
On Thursday the House, with no speeches about the importance of the provisions restoring regulations to 527s, quietly passed an elections bill that had tucked into it new regulations for the electioneering communications organizations. Republican leaders in the Legislature had said they were trying to find a way to restore the ECO-regulating part of the bill seperate from the leadership fund language that Crist had objected to.
The bill (HB 131) now headed to Crist, requires ECOs to file paperwork on who is behind them, and reports of contributions and expenditures.
The measure also tries to deal in some ways with the new forms of communicating and how that plays into campaign laws. For example, it deals with the paid political advertisement requirements and other requirements of what must be on campaign ads, specifically exempting ads on unpaid profiles on a social networking site - for example if it is on someone's Facebook page - from some requirements, as long as the source of the message or advertisement is patently clear from the content or format of the message or advertisement.
The paid political advertisement requirement also wouldn't apply under the legislation if the ad is a paid link on a website, provided the message is no more than 200 characters in length and the link directs the user to another Internet site that complies has the political advertising requirements. It also wouldn't apply if the ad is sent as a text message or tweet, as long as it is under 200 characters.
The new law would also specifically exempt social networking and other Internet sites when defining how electioneering communications organizations can be defined.
The language was tucked into a bill dealing with several elections issues, but primarily billed as a bill dealing with issues involving absentee voting by overseas military personnel. It deals with the timeframes for mailing ballots, and modernizes the procedures for getting and tracking those ballots, such as requiring elections supervisors to get Emails for certain overseas voters.
Another provision of the bill gives counties until 2016, instead of until 2012 as is required by current law, to comply with a federal law that says people with disabilities must be able to vote on certain voting machines that allow them to easily vote without assistance. For most counties, that would mean buying some touchscreen machines that have audio capabilities for blind voters.
Supporters of the change say the counties simply can't afford it the upgrade right now, and need more time.