Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tampa Bay area House Republicans weigh in on campaign finance reform

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 10:23 AM

Hillsborough County Rep. Jamie Grant
  • Hillsborough County Rep. Jamie Grant
It's less than a week before the 2013 Florida Legislative session commences in Tallahassee, and one of House Speaker Will Weatherford's stated priorities is campaign finance reform.

The Wesley Chapel based legislator called the state's current $500 cap on individual campaign contributions "archaic," saying he wants to increase the limit to $10,000, as well as eliminate the political committees of continuous existence (CCEs).

CL talked to Republican Representatives Jamie Grant (Hillsborough County) and Mike Fasano (New Port Richey) about the issue.

Fasano announced in early February that he would close his CCE and distribute the more than $100,000 that it contained to various charity groups, with a majority of it going to The Volunteer Way, a hunger relief charity.

"I commend Speaker Weatheford for tackling the issue of election reform. It's something that absolutely is needed," Fasano told CL. "I support what Speaker Weatherford is wanting to do with this."

However Fasano isn't nearly as enthusiastic about raising the maximum individual campaign contribution from $500 to $10,000.

"That's just a bit too high for my liking," the longtime state legislator admitted.

Fasano said he might be amenable to increasing the maximum to $1,000 or $1,500 for a primary and then a general or run-off election, but the 10K figure is too rich for his tastes.

Rep. Jamie Grant was more philosophical when discussing Weatherford's plan, supporting the need for campaign finance reform with increased transparency in the system. But he said it should be done comprehensively, and not in piecemeal form.

When it comes to CCEs, Grant isn't ready to throw them away, echoing Clearwater area state Sen. Jack Latvala.

"I think everybody would agree there's been significant abuse. There's been serious problems about how certain people have handled their CCEs," Grant said. He added that it makes no sense to "demonize CCEs."

Currently there are no contribution limits with CCEs.

Discussing CCEs with Grant brought up the fact that state legislators make just $29,000 a year. Although it's considered a part-time job, the responsibilities certainly go beyond the two months that members of the House and Senate convene in Tallahassee.

As former legislators like Rick Kriseman have told CL, you must have a flexible job to take off that much time — or be wealthy or independent enough not to worry about taking that much time off from a "regular" job. New Tampa Democratic Rep. Mark Danish, for example, is a school-teacher who has been granted time off to participate in his new duties in the state capital.

Grant told CL that he thinks at some point in the future the state will look into increasing legislator salaries so more school teachers and other members of the public can participate as citizen-legislators.

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