By Ashley Lopez
Florida Center for Investigative Reporting
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, told reporters that he is considering some campaign finance changes proposed by Integrity Florida, an ethics watchdog in Tallahassee.
Cleaning up ethics laws in the state capital and fixing broken parts of Florida’s campaign finance system are priorities this year for the GOP-led Florida Legislature.
In a report outlining problems with campaign finance in Florida, Integrity Florida took particular issue with Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs, which collect campaign money while being uninhibited by contribution limits.
Because there is a tight limit on how much businesses or political groups may give state lawmakers, a lot of political money has been funneled through these CCEs. Furthermore, the state provides a very grainy picture of where this money is coming from and where it is going.
According to a study last year by the National Institute on Money in State Politics:
A large donor can only give a candidate $500 per election, yet they are free to spend unlimited sums on electioneering communications, which are advertisements that seek to influence an election but fall short of explicitly endorsing or opposing a particular candidate or ballot measure. Candidates, particularly gubernatorial candidates, used ECOs to augment their fundraising operations and avoid the limits imposed by Florida’s public financing system.
Compounding the problem is that Florida’s disclosure of independent spending makes it difficult for the public to understand of who is funding or benefiting from the spending. Nearly 300 independent spending committees have been created since 2005, with innocuous names like “Let’s Get To Work,” “Florida’s Working Families,” and “Floridians for Truth and Integrity in Government,” with little or no identifying information. Yet many of these committees are registered to a small group of people. Of the $96.8 million of total independent spending during the study period, $38.8 million, 40 percent of the overall total, was routed through ECOs controlled by just four individuals.
Integrity Florida wrote in a report that some commonsense solutions to this problem include:
- Eliminate contribution limits.
- Require 24-hour disclosure.
- Streamline independent committees.
- Remove spending restrictions and increase disclosure for political parties.
- Enhance statewide campaign finance database.
Weatherford told a reporter with the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times that he thinks there are “some thought-provoking ideas there”:
“Instead of having all these entities that are hard to trace, we should have transparency so you can see where the money is coming in,” Weatherford said.
He wouldn’t comment on the other recommendations by Integrity Florida, which include eliminating campaign contribution limits and expenditures for candidates; requiring the disclosure of whether contributions were solicited by candidates; requiring a 24 hour reporting period for contributions 30 days before a primary or general election; and establishing a statewide campaign finance database.
“It’s a very compelling document,” Weatherford said. “We’ll look at it closely.”
Weatherford’s own CCE raised about about $2 million in the election cycle that just ended.