The history of campaign finance in Florida is convoluted, but like bad pennies, many of the major players keep turning up. In 2012, Senate President Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon shepherded through the re-establishment of leadership funds during their final terms in office. Leadership funds had been abolished by the legislature in the late 1980s. These funds are officially referred to as Affiliated Party Committees. Only the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House, or the Minority Leader of either house of the legislature may establish an Affiliated Party Committee. The sole purpose of these funds is for these legislative leaders to raise and spend money to support the election of candidates of the leader’s political party. But these aren’t the only committees legislators can use to rake in cash from the special interests.
In 2013 Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford claimed to have reformed campaign finance law by eliminating Committees of Continuous Existence which were being abused by some members of the legislature. What they didn’t tell us is that this same “reform” legislation eliminated the $500.00 limit on contributions to Political Committees. Legislators were allowed to take the fund balances in their CCEs which were being eliminated and roll them over into newly created Political Committees that could now accept unlimited contributions.
With these changes, Florida Statutes Chapter 106 “Campaign Financing” now allows for the following committees to exist for the purpose of influencing elections in Florida: Political Committees, Affiliated Party Committees, and Electioneering Communications Organizations. These committees can accept unlimited contributions and make unlimited expenditures either on behalf of candidates or in opposition to candidates. They can communicate directly with candidates and their staffs and coordinate on fund raising and advertising. They can all make unlimited contributions to each other and to political parties. When making an expenditure they only have to disclose the entity or business receiving the funds. They do not have to disclose on which candidates behalf or for what purpose their expenditures are being made.
Incumbent legislators and candidates are now running their elections from these political committees instead of their campaign accounts so that they can avoid limits on contributions, and the rich and powerful special interests are delighted to participate. Single source contributions in the hundreds of thousands of dollars are not uncommon. These committees also give candidates the ability to disguise the source of negative ads aimed at their opponents. Just because something is legal, that doesn’t make it right. Just because something is legal, that doesn’t mean it’s not corrupt.