Gaetz hailed the ethics bill as his “proudest moment as a senator” and said he expects the governor to sign it and not link it to other issues.
“The need to raise the standard of public conduct in this state stands on its own as a moral imperative,’’ he said.
The package accelerates reporting requirements by mandating that statewide candidates and their political committees must report campaign contributions daily in the last 10 days before a campaign.
Other campaigns will have less aggressive reporting rules but will increase reporting for legislators to every two weeks after they qualify for office.
The measure, however, creates several new loopholes and preserves others that have the effect of allowing political parties to shield large campaign donors and protect candidates from accusations that they are withholding personal financial data.
Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, tried and failed to amend the bill to limit donations from super PACs and political parties to $25,000.
But Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, chairman of the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee, said that raising the contribution limits, which were first put in place in 1992, are “sort of keeping up with inflation.’’
He noted that the House originally proposed unlimited campaign contributions so the compromise is “much better.’’
“You’re not going to be able to take money out of politics,” Latvala said.
The trend of decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed unlimited contributions to go to campaigns as a free speech right.
“So the best we’re going to be able to do in the long run is just to provide the transparency,’’ he said, noting that the daily reporting leading up to an election are “when all the monkey shines go on.”
The provisions also leave out recommendations made by the 2011 statewide grand jury, which recommended the state make it a felony if an officeholder’s unethical conduct is motivated by money. It raises the maximum fine for an ethics violation from $10,000 to $100,000.
Instead, lawmakers actually loosened some of the provisions that frequently draw fines — the failure to properly disclose their financial interests — and gave lawmakers a 30-day “re-do” to fix mistakes on financial disclosure forms.
The House rejected a series of amendments by Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, that would end the 30-day loophole and tighten other rules.
Common Cause Florida, a nonprofit watchdog group, slammed the campaign finance bill.
“The notion that lawmakers are seriously considering campaign finance reform is a farce,’’ said Common Cause’s Brad Ashwell in a statement. “The bottom line is that it will do very little to improve the campaign finance process and likely will do some harm.”
He said the higher campaign limits, unlimited amount of money sent to political parties and super PACs will invite more money into the political system and simply protect incumbents.
League of Women Voters President Deirdre Macnab echoed those concerns, but commended the ethics proposals as “the most significant effort at ethics reform in 37 years in Florida.”
Legislators, who must abide by the new rules, applauded the proposals as major accomplishments.
“This is not a perfect bill,’’ Gaetz said of the ethics bill. “The only perfect bills are the ones Moses brought down from the mountain.”
As the debate began, Weatherford summed the compromise up in a tweet: “Today is meet me halfway day,” he wrote.