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Politics

Democrats Question House Campaign Transparency Effort

February 5, 2013 - 6:00pm

House Democrats worry that election campaign finance reforms now moving through the Legislature could become costly, overburdening work for state elections officials who would have to record how every dollar is spent in every future campaign.

The author of the bill says that is the price of making sure the source and use of every dollar spent in an election is disclosed to the public.

With the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee moving its version of the campaign financing overhaul to a vote next Monday, Democrats on the panel quizzed the author of the bill on potential time-consuming impacts of the bill on Wednesday.

Rep. Mike Clelland, D-Lake Mary, questioned what the bill could mean for both political action committees and the state Division of Elections.

Were getting transparency but it seems at the expense of an extremely cumbersome and potentially expensive proposition on the part of the state, Clelland said.

It doesnt seem the purpose of this is accomplishing anything more than requiring the system to be bogged down, he later added. Its just too much.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, wondered if an exemption could be given to political actions committees, such as a 140,000-member teachers union, where $1 donations are reported monthly from every member.

Could we make it easier for membership organizations reporting some kind of streamlined reporting for them? she asked.

Meanwhile, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, questioned why the House leadership shouldnt just shut down the CCEs and otherwise maintain the status quo.

The House plan would eliminate the nearly 700 murky candidate-controlled campaigns of continuous existence that brought millions into the 2012 elections without contributor disclosure requirements by Nov. 1, impose stricter campaign reporting and expand the cap on contributions from $500 to $10,000.

Rep. Robert "Rob" Schenck, R-Spring Hill, the sponsor of the 47-page bill, said the intent of House Bill 569 is less about expanding the amount of contributions any individual can receive than making money in Florida campaigns more transparent to the public.

As long as youre increasing transparency and the public knows who its coming from, what its being spent for, what its going to, is there a difference between $500, $1,000 or $10,000? Schenck said after the hearing on Wednesday.

And why not offer an unlimited cap? Because I think $10,000 is reasonable, said Schenck, who also chairs both the Select Committee on Gaming and the Rules and Calendar Committee.

As for exemptions, You have transparency or you dont, he said.

The state Legislature's revamping of its campaign rules was spurred in part because of concerns that at least one former legislator was living off his campaign for continuous existence money.

On Wednesday, a report by USA Todaystated that a number of former U.S. House members were using their leftover campaign money for personal luxuries and foundations,among the most prominent being former Rep. Allen West, a Republican from Palm Beach Gardens, who donated a combined $500,000 to two foundations, including the Allen West Foundation.

Federal law doesnt put a time limit on how long a campaign account can remain active, and long dormant money can be used to help other candidates, future campaign expenses or causes.

Candidates in Florida must spend their money at the end of an election, but CCEs have no time frame.

Schenck has proposed allowing Florida candidates to carry over $100,000 from election to election as part of the move to eliminate the CCEs.


Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 215-9889.

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