Miami-Dade County

County ballot measure on campaign finance delayed to 2018

Jean Monestime, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, adjourns a meeting for a lack of quorum. The meeting was called to approve counting the signatures for a petition drive aimed at campaign-donation restrictions.
Jean Monestime, chairman of the Miami-Dade County Commission, adjourns a meeting for a lack of quorum. The meeting was called to approve counting the signatures for a petition drive aimed at campaign-donation restrictions. dhanks@miamiherald.com

A petition drive to ban lobbyists from making campaign donations in Miami-Dade County would have moved a step closer to winning a slot on the November ballot if enough county commissioners had shown up to a special meeting on Tuesday. Their presence was needed to authorize a formal count of the more than 125,000 signatures gathered in the effort.

But commissioners fell one member short of a quorum, all but assuring there wouldn’t be enough time for the item to clear the procedural steps needed to go before voters on Election Day. Barring a court challenge, the package of new campaign-cash restrictions will likely get pushed to the next countywide election — which, at the moment, is in August 2018.

“We have 125,000 signatures waiting at the Election Headquarters,” said Christian Ulvert, a top campaign operative for local Democrats and chief organizer of the petition drive. “It was disappointing the process isn’t moving forward.”

Six commissioners attended the special meeting called during the 13-member board’s traditional August break. They were Chairman Jean Monestime and commissioners Sally Heyman, Daniella Levine Cava, Dennis Moss, Xavier Suarez and Javier Souto. Seven commissioners were needed to hold the meeting. Commissioner Barbara Jordan, who had previously announced she would be there, wrote a memo Monday night saying she had to go to a medical appointment instead.

“Apparently, we don’t have a quorum,” Monestime told the audience well after the scheduled noon start. “So, thank you for being here.”

The petition drive, backed by union dollars and the Every Voice nonprofit in Washington, D.C., would dramatically alter how incumbents fund their reelection drives. The item would reduce the maximum campaign donation in county and city races from $1,000 to $250. It also would ban campaign donations from companies and their representatives — including lobbyists — when they hold contracts with the government worth at least $250,000.

The ban would not apply to unions, despite their financial interests in election results. And developers also wouldn’t be covered, suggesting a significant advantage for companies pursuing zoning changes and other favorable decisions from elected officials. Vendors, lobbyists and developers currently dominate fundraising at the county level, with unions also playing a central role. The rules also wouldn’t apply to political committees supporting candidates, where donations aren’t capped.

Christina White, Miami-Dade’s elections director, said Tuesday’s canceled meeting meant there was essentially no chance the item could be authorized before the Election Day ballots need to be printed in early September. “I don’t see a scenario where this is going to make the November ballot,” she said.

While Miami-Dade is holding primaries Aug. 30 — including non-partisan races for county mayor and three commission seats — the group behind the petition drive, An Accountable Miami-Dade, was aiming for the November ballot.

The group was always pushing the electoral clock with its petition drive. An Accountable Miami-Dade only filed its petitions seven days ago, triggering the need for the special meeting that failed to make quorum. Various rules governing the signature verification and commission review could have taken more than 60 days, pushing the process well past the early-September deadline for printing ballots. A legal challenge to the proposed restrictions was also expected.

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