New campaign finance laws now on the books

11/01/2013 6:00 AM

11/01/2013 4:29 PM

With little more than a year remaining before voters head to the polls in November 2014, candidates face something of a new world: They can now rake in even more money from contributors to their campaigns.

Some of the biggest changes in a sweeping campaign-finance bill, approved last spring by the Legislature, became law in Florida on Friday.

That includes a boost in contribution limits to candidates. Statewide candidates and retention campaigns for Supreme Court justices will be able to accept $3,000 from each contributor for each election, while legislative candidates and other campaigns can take up to $1,000. The previous limit for both was $500.

And candidates will be able to roll over up to $20,000 in unspent campaign funds to their re-election bids.

The ability to take larger contributions might have already affected the timeline of the 2014 campaign. Former Gov. Charlie Crist is set to announce his political intentions on Monday — just three days after the changes take effect — and is widely expected to launch a bid to regain his old office.

The moves were part of a bill that also banned shadowy fund-raising vehicles known as "committees of continuous existence," though many of the functions of CCEs have simply been transferred to "political committees." That ban on CCEs has already taken effect.

Supporters of the measure say it will give candidates an ability to more effectively control their messages in an era when U.S. Supreme Court decisions increasingly allow outside groups to raise and spend massive amounts of money in federal, state and even local elections.

Essentially, backers of the law say that money will always find its way into the political system. The new changes will, hopefully, send more of that money to candidates who have to stand behind their messages.

"What this law does is begin to allow candidates themselves to accept more of those existing funds through their own accounts to be more accountable for how that money is raised and spent," said Dan Krassner, executive director of Integrity Florida, a nonpartisan group.

Krassner also highlighted the fact that the bill increases the number of financial reports that campaigns and committees are required to file with state elections officials.

Opponents are not convinced. Instead, they see an increasing crush of money from special interests that already have a disproportionate voice in the political system. Deirdre Macnab, president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said research shows that states with higher contribution limits see fewer people giving to candidates and fewer people voting.

"It reduces the public’s confidence in the political system," she said.

Opponents also say the rollover provision will scare away potential challengers in races where $20,000 can be a significant edge.

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