Op-Ed

We need to know who gives and who takes political cash

TNS

This week marks the one-year anniversary of my election to the Miami-Dade County Commission, representing District 8. I ran for public office because I feel strongly that the community can reach its full potential only when we all participate in our democracy. Unfortunately, too many residents do not vote in local elections and do not fully participate in civic life.

They have lost trust in the political process and lost faith that their voice matters. Lack of transparency in campaign finance undergirds this loss of trust.

A key pathway to increasing faith and involvement in the public process is to increase government transparency and accountability. Since being elected, I have worked with my colleagues to pass legislation to further that goal.

We updated the Employee Protection Ordinance to make it easier and safer for county employees and vendors to report fraud, waste and abuse.

We also created an open-data policy to make our government more transparent. It digitally empowers residents with real time information on government services and transactions.

Making our data more user-friendly also helps the public better understand how tax dollars are being spent for county services, as well as how outside money is being spent to influence the county’s decision-making.

Following the money in campaigns and elections is also critical to informed citizen decision-making. Unfortunately, in our current local campaign-finance system, following the money has become unnecessarily difficult, as much of the money in campaigns is shielded from public scrutiny.

Recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings have paved the way for an unprecedented growth in financing outside of candidate campaign accounts.

For Florida, this has meant the growth of Political Committees (PCs). Unlike traditional campaign fund raising, which is tied to a particular candidate, political committees and similar entities, governed through the federal 527 IRS code, provide funding not subject to the same dollar limitations as candidates’ campaign accounts.

Fund raising can now occur without limit; greater public disclosure is urgently needed.

Without real-time transparency for these additional accounts, voters cannot be informed as to who is soliciting and who is funding campaigns outside the candidates’ accounts.

In keeping with my belief in open government, I introduced legislation last week that would bring increased transparency and integrity to campaign-related fund raising at the local level. In short, my legislation will publicly disclose when candidates or officeholders solicit funds for a political committee or electioneering communications organization (ECO) for the benefit of their campaigns.

Such disclosure currently is not required at the local level, although Florida law already requires this disclosure of the governor, Cabinet officers and state legislators.

This simple step of disclosure will provide greater transparency for the public as to who is receiving support from PCs or ECOs and from where that support is coming, ending the anonymity that is so corrosive to the democratic process.

If this legislation passes, all elected officials and candidates for elective office in Miami-Dade will be required to file a Statement of Solicitation form when they fundraise for a PC or ECO with our supervisor of elections.

The Miami-Dade County Elections Department will establish a searchable online database of all elected officials and candidates who have filed such a disclosure so that the public can more easily understand and access the relationships between candidates, officials and the PCs or ECOs supporting them.

Serving this community along with my colleagues is an honor and a privilege. We all want to live in a place with responsive, effective and accountable local government. I believe this legislation is one small, common-sense step in the right direction toward a stronger and more participatory relationship between residents and their government.

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