TALLAHASSEE -- Florida lawmakers have agreed to dramatically boost the cash state candidates can raise for elections as part of a broader ethics and elections reform that eliminates some political slush funds politicians have used to support their "fillet Mignon" lifestyles.
The Senate Wednesday passed a deal (HB 569) with the House that would boost contribution limits for statewide offices like the governor, attorney general, and chief financial officer from $500 per person to $3,000 per person.
Legislative candidates and judges could raise $1,000 from a person per election.
"There's going to be money in politics. The trend of the U.S. Supreme Court decisions is headed in the direction of unlimited money in politics," said Senate elections chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. "The best we are going to be able to do in the long-run is have the transparency to go along with that."
But the final deal likely to be headed to Gov. Rick Scott this week still preserves a major reporting loophole by excluding state parties from the increased reporting standards.
The campaign-finance bill, HB 569, would do away with what are called "committees of continuous existence," which lawmakers use to raise big checks from donors and either funnel them elsewhere or spend them on travel, hotels, food and entertainment.
But it would change the rules for other "political committees" and allow them to operate much like the now outlawed CCEs. Lawmakers could dump all their money from the CCEs into the new PCs, which could then be used to conduct political activities.
Instead of quarterly reports, statewide candidates and those groups would have to report monthly in election years until 60 days before the primary, when they would have to begin reporting contributions and expenditures weekly.
For the last 10 days before the general election, they would have to file reports every 24 hours.
Legislative candidates would report every other week leading up to the general election.
Latvala said that would help expose some of the "monkey shines" in the final weeks of campaign-season, when candidates get hit with misleading or flat-out false campaign-attacks that the public and media often can't sort out until after the elections.
"A lot of the strange things go on in the last week, 10 days of an election," Latvala said.
But it makes no such disclosure requirements of political parties or the "affiliated party committees" authorized for party legislative leaders to use after the Jim Greer fiasco in 2010 but so far not utilized.
Parties are actually the least-regulated committees under Florida law when it comes to disclosure. They have to file two quarterly reports in election years, then another report in August just before the state primary. They then go dark until the weekend before the general election in November -- months after they've been spending money on mailers and ads.
After transfers are weeded out, Florida's political parties spent at least $50.6 million on state campaigns in the 2012 election, the majority of it not reported until days before the general and primary elections. That's 25.8 percent of the total $196.3 million spent in the state elections, according to an Orlando Sentinel analysis of campaign-finance data. CCEs themselves accounted for only about 17 percent of the total spending.
The Senate action is part of a deal with the House, which also passed an ethics reform (SB 2) Wednesday favored by Senate President Don Gaetz.
Scott has threatened to veto the campaign-finance bill and reiterated Wednesday he didn't see any reason to raise contribution limits.
"I continue to say this, no one’s shown me a rationale for raising these limits. So, I don’t know why we would be doing it. I haven’t seen a rationale yet," Scott said. "I don’t see a rationale for raising campaign limits. On the ethics bill, you know, I want to review it so we’ll see what happens."
The ethics bill prohibits ex-lawmakers from lobbying the Legislature or executive branch for two years after leaving office, but in the final deal hatched this week, it would still allow them to go to work for law or lobbying firms as "rainmakers" -- so long as they don't directly lobby themselves.
House ethics and elections chairman Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said that loophole was left in the bill "to allow those formerly involved in the process the chance for employment."
But Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said that was a poor rationale that the public wouldn't approve.
"We come up here to serve the people of our districts not further or financial careers," Fasano said, singling out the examples of former House speakers Dean Cannon and Larry Cretul.
"Taking out the [Senate] provision that stops former speakers from working behind the scenes sends the wrong message to our constituents and our districts."
The bill also gives the state Ethics Commission more teeth to go after deadbeat politicians who don't pay their fines. And it makes it harder for them to cash in on their access to taxpayer dollars by scoring second-jobs in government or public schools, if they know or should know they're being hired or promoted because of their connections.
The coordination Wednesday was part of an effort to get both bills to the governor so he will have to decide whether to sign or veto them before the end of session. The Legislature has refused to go along thus far with his request to cut manufacturing taxes, and Scott has threatened to veto the campaign-finance bill. Sending him the bill within seven days of the end of session will force him to make a decision on the legislative priority before lawmakers have to decide whether to give him the tax break.