State lawmakers took a big step this past legislative session toward making campaign finance reporting more transparent and accountable.
Although new rules signed into law this year will do little to stem the avalanche of money flowing into campaigns, they at least establish a reporting system that gives voters an understanding of the people and corporations behind the donations.
The new law makes it easier for voters to follow the money by increasing the frequency that campaign finance reports must be filed, and by eliminating the Committees of Continuous Existence that allowed donors to remain anonymous. New committees can be formed to collect unlimited donations, but the donors must now be reported.
The law also increases the contribution limits for local and statewide races, a change that should lessen the time candidates must spend raising funds. For local candidates, the limit increases from $500 to $1,000; for statewide candidates it increases from $500 to $3,000. The old limits were passed two decades ago, long before it took as much as $20 million to run a statewide campaign in Florida.
Credit state House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Republican from Wesley Chapel, for making campaign finance reform a priority this past legislative session. Recent political corruption scandals in the state can be linked to the flood of untraceable money flowing into committees and political parties. It’s the reason it can be difficult to tell exactly who is behind those detestable attack ads on television.
Critics who argue stricter limits are needed on the amounts that can be donated are being unrealistic. Special interests will always find a way to get the money into a campaign. We think better transparency in reporting is about the best you can hope for in a political process saturated with money.
“Our goal should be to transition to a political financing system that maximizes transparency and accountability with candidates themselves becoming directly responsible for their own campaigning activities,” Dan Krassner, of the government watchdog group Integrity Florida, told a state House committee. “Let us trust the voters of Florida to evaluate the money individuals, companies and associations give to candidates then reach their own judgment about candidates’ associations with their funders.”
That seems reasonable.
It won’t be long before voters get a chance to experience a political season with the new transparency rules in place. The 2014 races will soon be upon us. In particular, it will be interesting to watch the race for governor now that Gov. Rick Scott has said he will not personally finance his campaign, as he did in 2010. As much as $100 million may be raised and spent by Scott.
The new law should make for a more informed electorate in 2014, and beyond.