TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The political committees critics say are often abused by lawmakers would be outlawed while campaign contribution limits would increase from $500 to $10,000 under a House bill that received its first approval Monday.
The House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee voted 10-2 to approve the bill (HB 569) that would ban committees of continuous existence, or CCEs, which critics say some lawmakers abuse by taking huge donations from lobbyists and other donors and spending it on meals, travel and entertaining that has little to do with political activity.
At the same time, it gives candidates and other types of political committees the ability to gather more money by raising contribution limits significantly. Candidates and committees, however, would have to report contributions and expenditures more frequently. Instead of quarterly reporting, campaign finance reports would have to be filed monthly. The frequency changes to every week 60 days before an election and then daily the last 10 days before an election.
"The bill is simple, it takes Florida's election process and makes it one of the most transparent in the nation, and it does so while protecting everyone's free speech in the political process," said bill sponsor Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill.
The bill would also allow lawmakers to keep $100,000 in campaign contributions for their next election as long as they're running for the same office. Lawmakers currently can't carry over contributions from one election cycle to the next. Schenck said that provision is the similar to the situation that applies to members of Congress, who have unlimited ability to carry over contributions.
CCEs are used to raise money that's supposed to be spent on contributions to candidates, other political committees and political parties. They can't spend money on things like television ads or other means to sway voters for or against candidates and causes.
Schenck said Florida law clearly spells out what candidates and other political committees can and can't spend money on, but not with CCEs.
"In CCEs, the expenditures are much more nebulous," Schenck said.
Democratic Reps. Alan Williams of Tallahassee and Janet Cruz of Tampa voted against the bill, expressing concern that the higher contribution limits would further inject the influence of money into elections.
"The transparency piece is fine," Williams said. "By increasing those (contribution) limits, we favor incumbents and we bring more money into the process. There are a lot of folks out there who would love to give more money to state House races and state Senate races."
A wide-ranging Senate ethics bill (SB 2) addresses CCEs by seeking to ban lawmakers from accepting "gifts" from the committees rather than getting rid of them.
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