Miami Beach commissioners on Wednesday unanimously approved revised campaign finance laws to now prevent candidates and elected officials from soliciting contributions to political action committees from city vendors and lobbyists.
Beach developers, however, can still be solicited for donations.
The commission created more stringent campaign finance laws after last year’s controversy about the role of special-interest money in local politics.
Commissioners and candidates will no longer be able to solicit PAC contributions from lobbyists and vendors who have city contracts. Essentially all developers, though, can still be solicited.
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Developers appear before the city’s land-use boards to get approvals for projects. These bodies, such as the Design Review Board and Historic Preservation Board, have members who are appointed by commissioners.
Longtime activist Frank Del Vecchio pointed this out to the commission, saying the ordinance should also include developers who appear before these boards and bidders seeking contracts, not just those who are ultimately chosen. Commissioner John Elizabeth Alemán wants to revisit the suggestions.
“I’d also like to study the suggestions that Mr. Del Vecchio made around the definition of vendor, including those who have submitted a bid, for so long as the bid remains active,” she said. “And also study the suggestion to expand the definition of a real-estate developer.”
City Attorney Raul Aguila agreed that expanding the prohibition can be further studied, but cautioned against expanding the prohibition immediately because the city could be challenged for trying to limit political free speech.
“As all of us know the Supreme Court of this country is becoming increasingly liberal with regard to campaign contributions,” he said. “We’re pushing the envelope as far as we can. But at the same time, we have to be conscious of the law of the land.”
The law also prohibits indirect solicitations, such as a third party asking lobbyists and vendors on behalf of candidates and elected officials.
The ordinance was developed after a months-long controversy surrounding Relentless for Progress, a political action committee that raised $1.4 million from city vendors, lobbyists and real estate developers. The PAC intended to support candidates in last fall’s election.
The committee — which had initials that mirrored the process for soliciting bidders for public projects, RFP — was chaired by then-Commissioner Jonah Wolfson and supported by Mayor Philip Levine. Wolfson and Levine both directly solicited contributions for the PAC.
Last summer, when hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions started to flow in from big-name developers and vendors who had contracts with the city, residents were incensed. Voters made the PAC — and the role of special interest money in politics — a hot-button issue during the fall election.