The League of Women Voters expressed concern Thursday over a key part of a House campaign-finance measure, saying raising the contribution limit to $10,000 could open the door to corruption and further disillusion voters.
The increased contribution limit -- which would be 20 times the current limit of $500 -- is part of a two-pronged effort to curb the influence of outside groups in elections. The same legislation (HB 569) including the new limit would also ban "committees of continuous existence," which can be used to funnel outside money into campaigns.
"That is an old, archaic law that should be addressed," House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said of the contribution limit in November. "And by doing that, it will alleviate and emasculate these third-party groups that have been so prevalent in Florida for years and years."
But Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said increasing the individual giving limit could drown out the voices of "Main Street Floridians" who can't give large amounts to lawmakers. And she argued that aspects of the bill favored by the league -- like increased reporting and the ban on CCEs -- could later be rolled back while contribution limits continue to go up.
"It is awfully easy to really get the camel's nose under the tent," she said.
National experts on a conference call held by the league Thursday said Florida is going in the opposite direction of other states that have recently lowered or are looking to lower contribution limits.
"We believe that they represent an important bulwark against corruption and against the perception of corruption," said Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, based at the New York University School of Law.
Critics of raising the limits pointed out that federal candidates are allowed to raise $2,600 from each person per election, a little more than one fourth the possible limit for Florida. And they largely rejected the House argument that the new contribution limits were essentially a swap for getting rid of CCEs.
"We should not be trading that off against legalized bribery," said Lloyd Leonard, director of advocacy for the national League of Women Voters.