The two sides fighting over a campaign-finance ballot initiative expect to battle Wednesday before Miami-Dade commissioners. But the real showdown may come the next day in court.
A union-backed group is pressing Miami-Dade leaders to reserve a spot on November’s ballot for the item, with the Elections Department saying Tuesday night that organizers have enough petition signatures to put the question before voters.
The proposal would ban county contractors and their lobbyists from supporting candidates for county office. Commissioners are slated to take up the question during their regular twice-a-month meeting Wednesday, but a thicket of legal and procedural challenges could scuttle the proposal before the 13-member board gets a chance to vote on the matter.
Even if one side prevails at the commission level, lawyers are gearing up to fight on another front. A Miami-Dade Circuit Court judge has scheduled a 10 a.m. hearing Thursday to consider whether commissioners can block the item if organizers have enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, said Joe Geller, a Democratic member of the Florida House and an elections lawyer representing the group behind the proposal, An Accountable Miami-Dade.
The fight began in early August when the organization pulled two U-Haul trucks into the Doral parking lot of Miami-Dade’s Elections Department and unloaded boxes with petitions containing about 128,000 signatures endorsing the ballot item. Organizers only needed about 52,000 valid signatures — 4 percent of the county’s 1.3 million registered voters — to secure a ballot slot.
Even with the close margin, organizers appear to have more than enough signatures to win a ballot slot. But the signature threshold may be the easiest of their challenges.
That bar proved hard to clear for Accountable Miami-Dade. A Tuesday report from Elections administrators, who spent about $900,000 to hire contract workers to review the petitions, showed less than half of the signatures have been deemed valid. With all 128,000 signatures checked, less than 56,000 were approved — roughly 44 percent.
Even with the close margin, organizers have more than enough signatures to win a ballot slot, Elections Supervisor Christina White wrote in a report issued Tuesday evening. But the signature threshold may be the easiest of their challenges.
County lawyers have already warned the proposed ballot item has legal flaws, including misleading language and a title that’s one word over a state cap of 15. County commissioners cool to the proposal seized on those warnings in saying they may ultimately vote against putting the item before voters even as they authorized election officials to begin counting the signatures on Aug. 22.
We have a moral and legal obligation to get this thing on the ballot.
Miami-Dade Commissioner Xavier Suarez
White’s report was added to Wednesday’s agenda on Tuesday night, but the last-minute timing gives any of the 13 commissioners authority to block consideration until the following meeting. A delay could mean the item would miss the deadline later this month for printing the November ballots, so advocates are urging a commission vote. “We have a moral and legal obligation to get this thing on the ballot,” Commissioner Xavier Suarez said.
The item has divided the commission, with some advocating the proposed rules and others rejecting them as misguided and selective.
Vendors and lobbyists provide significant backing to incumbents in county office, and backers see the proposed rules as a way to dilute the influence of corporate dollars in local politics. Critics note the ban doesn’t apply to developers or unions, two powerful political forces with financial interests in how Miami-Dade spends tax dollars.
A proposed lowering of the maximum campaign contributions from $1,000 to $250 also would favor unions, who can steer thousands of smaller donations from members to favored candidates.
Every Voice, a group out of Washington, D.C., that funds similar efforts nationwide, helped write the proposed legislation attached to the ballot item, and gave financial backing to Accountable Miami-Dade’s organizing efforts. Eric Zichella, a lobbyist opposing the item, said the group should be blamed for taking flawed legislation to the public.
“The fault for that falls squarely at the feet of the Washington, D.C. union think tanks who drafted this legislation,” he said.