TALLAHASSEE — With the 60-day lawmaking session complete, Florida legislators are wasting no time getting back to what they do the other 10 months of the year: raising copious amounts of cash from wealthy donors and companies.
And thanks to a campaign-finance bill Gov. Rick Scott signed last week, the campaign-fundraising process is likely to be more opaque than ever.
The new law was sold to the public and media as a "transparency" reform because it outlaws "committees of continuous existence," which some lawmakers used to fund their night lives, and requires additional reporting for the remaining political committees and candidates themselves.
What it doesn't do is stop the "shell game" of using "political committees" — which will take the place of CCEs — to obscure the money trail between big givers and the candidates they want to hurt or help. Most political watchers expect that obfuscation to continue unabated.
"Interested people can put significant money in play if they choose to, just as before," said Ron Meyer, a lawyer for the Florida Education Association who specializes in campaign-finance law.
But more threatening to the transparency narrative is that the stepped-up reporting requirements intentionally left out political parties.
For example, unlike the weekly and daily reporting required of committees and candidates, the parties won't have to report their activities between the 2014 state primary and general election until the weekend before Election Day.
That means big donors could hide their intent until the latest possible moment by steering cash through state parties. House Speaker Will Weatherford insisted on keeping parties exempt, although the Wesley Chapel Republican was vague about why he did so.
"With a political party you have executive committees. You have state committeemen and women who are elected by the citizens of the state of Florida. The accountability measurements that are there now are much stronger than with some of these other entities," Weatherford told reporters the day the bill passed. "They are a different animal."
Coincidentally, this protects the major donors that Weatherford and other legislative leaders now are actively courting for big checks.
As soon as the session ended May 3, Weatherford, Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, and future Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O' Lakes, sent out a Republican Party of Florida cash call to lobbyists and donors for a May 31 Boston Red Sox-Yankees game in New York.
Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and next in line Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, invited the donor base to the "Fifth Annual Boca Grande Fishing Tournament," where big-check writers can stay at the Gasparilla Inn and go angling with 10 GOP senators.
And Senate Minority Leader Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, and future Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, are beckoning donors to Walt Disney World in mid-June for a private VIP tour of the Magic Kingdom where they will be separated from their cash.
All these fundraisers will funnel money through the state parties.
So if you're a major donor such as Disney, the Miami Dolphins, U.S. Sugar Corp. or Florida Blue, would you rather send your cash to a political committee where the media, public and political adversaries can see it within a week? Or would you prefer to give it to the political parties, which can spend those dollars to help the same candidates without reporting for two months?
The incentive structure here is pretty clear. So in 2014, the public can expect once again to have a tiny keyhole into the fast-moving flow of ever-growing quantities of political money.
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