Thursday, February 14, 2013

Bill raising campaign finance limits rankles voting rights activists

Posted By on Thu, Feb 14, 2013 at 1:13 PM

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Today, voting rights groups are opposing a proposal to dramatically increase the amount of money that individuals can contribute to political campaigns in Florida.

Current Florida law prevents citizens from contributing more than $500 to any campaign, a figure that House Speaker Will Weatherford has blasted as "archaic." The new law (HB 569) that's moving through the Florida House would raise the figure to $10,000, making it one of the most generous in the country.

The law also would eliminate Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs) — the political committees that can collect unlimited funds but can't spend on campaigns — and provide for quicker transparency of campaign contributions.

On Thursday, Deirdre Macnab, president of League of Women Voters of Florida, said her organization was "deeply concerned" about the $10,000 proposed limits.

Adam Skaggs, who has the lengthy title of Senior Counsel with the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at the NYU School of Law, said the move would put Florida well outside the mainstream of what other states are doing in terms of individual campaign contributions.

Currently there is no limit to how much individuals in Florida can contribute to a political party.

Skaggs said the Brennan Center has studied campaign contribution increases of more than $2,000 in other states, and where that has happened, corruption has followed. He said the higher the contribution limits, the greater advantage incumbents have.

Lloyd Leonard is the national president with the League of Women Voters. He said pro-business groups like the Chamber of Commerce are pushing to get rid of contribution limits, but he said his organization would like to go in the opposite direction and fight for lower campaign contributions. He said allowing more people to enter the contribution process would be better for democracy (the League would also like to see government matching funds for lower contributions).

In exchange for higher finance limits, advocates for the bill have inserted language that would call for candidates for state offices to file weekly campaign finance reports after they qualify for office; during the last 10 days of the general election cycle, they'd be required to provide 24-hour reporting. That follows some suggestions made by the group Integrity Florida, who also advocates eliminating limits by individuals.

Macnab said she appreciates that idea because Florida has a long way to go with increasing transparency, but she doesn't think it's worth the tradeoff.

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