The petition drive to get new campaign-finance rules before Miami-Dade voters in November officially ended Monday when an appeals court formally overruled a judge who had ordered the package on the ballot.
In reality, the legal fight ended last week when the Third District Court of Appeal declined to lift a freeze on the judge’s order, allowing Miami-Dade’s deadline for printing the ballots to pass without including the item. County commissioners had already voted against sending the measure to voters, saying the union-backed proposal had too many legal flaws to be considered.
Circuit Court Judge William Thomas ruled on Sept. 9 that commissioners exceeded their authority in blocking the measure’s path to voters and ordered the item be placed on the November ballot. On Monday, the appeals court said the elected body acted properly after determining the measure wasn’t sufficient.
But the higher court also left the door open for another legal fight, saying the group behind the ballot-item drive, An Accountable Miami-Dade, was free to file a separate suit challenging the commission’s conclusion.
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“We express no opinion regarding the merits of such a suit,” the Miami-based court wrote.
At issue was a sweeping ordinance that would upend how Miami-Dade regulates campaign donations, a proposal opposed by a majority of the 13-member commission and prominent lobbyists but backed by unions, Democratic officials and outside groups supporting both. The rules would ban county vendors, their lobbyists and relatives from giving to candidates for county office, lower the contribution from $1,000 to $250, and beef-up the county’s seldom-used system for subsidized campaigns.
An Accountable Miami-Dade, a political committee backed by out-of-state dollars, managed a petition drive that turned in nearly 130,000 signatures to the county’s election headquarters last month. The petitions were enough to send the proposed ordinance to voters, who would be presented with a summary written by Accountable Miami-Dade of the bill’s provisions. When commissioners on Sept. 7 declared the proposed ballot item misleading, the measure died until Judge Thomas delivered his order to put the measure on the ballot.
Miami-Dade appealed the same day, a move that automatically froze — or “stayed” — the judge’s order. That meant the commissioners’ original decision remained in effect, and last week the Third District Court of Appeal rejected Accountable Miami-Dade’s request to lift the stay. Monday’s decision quashes Thomas’ ruling altogether, barring an appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.
Accountable Miami-Dade leaders issued a statement Monday night acknowledging defeat on the court fight but vowing to press on with the proposal for future elections. “While the County’s delay tactics have kept the initiative off of the Nov. 8th ballot, reform advocates are exploring all legal options and are confident voters will have the opportunity to vote on the initiative,” the group said.