A much ballyhooed campaign finance reform bill has now passed its final committee stop before being put to a vote in the Florida Senate. But the fate of any such legislation remains in doubt as the more conservative House of Representatives passed a very different version of the bill last month.
New 2013 Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) legislative leaders – Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford – took command of their respective chambers back in January with bold proclamations about how ethics reforms would be “top priorities” in this year’s 60-day legislative lollapalooza.
Both were well-armed with polling data and a mountain of anecdotal evidence showing that many if not most Floridians have trouble trusting the RPOF, after so many years of corruption scandals, indictments, trials, convictions and assorted other intrigue.
Sobered and perhaps scared by 2012 election losses, the new RPOF leadership team resolved to reform the party’s tainted image by focusing on…what else, reform.
And yet more than halfway through the session, there remain very fundamental differences between the Senate and House bills, and it remains to be seen whether those conflicts can or will be resolved in time for a compromise bill to be passed and sent to Governor Rick Scott for signing.
One key difference that has gotten little attention but could have major impact is the House provision subjecting labor unions to an exhaustive, expensive new set of record-keeping and reporting requirements. This is seen by many as the latest in a series of attempts by the more conservative wing of the party that dominates the House to undermine the ability of Democratic-leaning unions and workers to compete with unlimited corporate contributions that flow predominantly to the GOP.
Notably, the more moderate Republicans in control of the Senate have stripped this provision from their version of the bill.
Of the other key disagreements to be ironed out, the central one is that the House wants to get rid of much-maligned CCEs, the “Committees of Continuous Existence” that became much-abused slush funds for questionable, non-political activities in recent years. But in what some are calling a “bait & switch” move, the current $500 cap on contributions to candidates would be raised to $5,000 for statewide races and $3,000 for others.
The Senate bill stands firm on the $500 limit, a position that’s also strongly supported by multimillionaire Governor Scott – who it must be pointed out can afford can to take a “reformist” stance on the issue.
The other big difference between the two bills is that the Senate would cut by more than half the House version’s amount of unused campaign donations – from $50,000 to $20,000 – that candidates can “roll over” to their next campaign.
In the end, all you really need to know about these competing campaign finance reform bills is that neither one of them does anything at all to cap what would remain unlimited donations that can still be made to political parties.
Translation: The same ever-increasing flow of super-rich individual and corporate special interest money will be delivered to candidates fielded by the RPOF; only through a different…irrigation system.
Decisions about how to handle distribution of all that unlimited party dough would then fall largely to Senate President Gaetz and House Speaker Weatherford, the very men who have been crafting and are now wrangling over these “reform” bills.
In all fairness, in addition to having seemingly agreed not to actually reform a corrupted system, these two leaders and their chambers have also agreed about instituting tougher, more frequent fundraising reporting requirements; theoretically offering more “transparency” to the media and public about where most of their dough is coming from.
And in all cynicism, that may only be because they have no fear that anyone other than political junkies, reporters and activists will be looking at – much less caring about – the truth of who and what is buying control over our government, and our lives.
Once again, as with with state government in general – Floridians are likely to end up getting the kind of “reform” they earn with their levels of attention, engagement and outrage. Or not.