LEGISLATURE

Senate’s campaign finance compromise creates mega PACs

 

Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Political slush funds will get a new name and campaign finance limits will rise for statewide candidates under a Senate campaign finance bill that won unanimous approval by a Senate committee on Monday.

The proposal by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is intended as a compromise to a House plan that makes similar changes and is a top priority for House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.

Weatherford wants an end to the abuse of political committees known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCEs. They are used by legislators who raise unlimited funds, write checks to other candidates and finance personal entertainment, travel meals and other lavish expenses. Former Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, who was slated to succeed Weatherford as House speaker in 2016, was voted out of office because of perceived abuses of his CCE.

The Senate bill, SB 1382, abolishes CCEs and raises the contribution limit from a flat $500 to /a tiered system/ of $3,000 for statewide and Supreme Court candidates, $2,000 for certain other judicial candidates and $500 for legislative candidates. The House bill, HB 569, also ends CCEs but raises political contribution limits to $10,000.

Despite the changes, several senators on the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voiced skepticism about the bill.

“I guess this is the ‘PC’ bill. It’s politically correct but it doesn’t really change anything in the real world,’’ said Sen Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.

The House and Senate bills will shift much of the power, including the ability to collect contributions of unlimited amounts, from CCEs to super Political Action Committees. Requirements will be tighter for the kinds of personal expenses the funds can finance, but the legislator-controlled political committees will also now pay for controversial political ads that CCEs can’t finance.

“Doing away with CCEs and the creating these super political committees, I’m not sure what you’re gaining or losing,’’ said Mark Herron, a Tallahassee lawyer and election law expert.

Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times contributed to this report.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@MiamiHerald.com and on Twitter @MaryEllenKlas

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