The Florida Legislature's much-ballyhooed marriage
between campaign-finance and ethics reforms may be hitting a rough patch.
On Tuesday, the Senate moved away from the House on its campaign-finance bill (SB 1382) when the chamber's Rules Committee removed language that would have increased -- to as much as $3,000 -- the current $500 limit on contributions to candidates.
Besides the contribution-limits, the bill requires more-frequent disclosure of fundraising and spending and attempts to make it harder for third-party groups and major donors to hide their giving.
The move comes two weeks after Gov. Rick Scott issued a subtle threat to veto any bill that raises the limits. But Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville had already expressed skepticism about sharply raising that two-decade-old limit -- and then abandoning the idea altogether following the governor's threat.
Like Gaetz, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has made reform a priority this year. But he has insisted on higher limits in exchange for doing away with or reforming Committees of Continuous Existence, the political slush funds some lawmakers have used to finance what Gaetz called "filet-mignon lifestyles" thanks to big checks from companies and other contributors with interests before the Legislature.
And a couple hours after the Senate Rules vote, the House's State Affairs committee postponed a vote on its ethics bill. The committee had planned to make changes to HB 7131 to bring it closer to the measure the Senate passed last month -- namely, by extending a two-year ban on lobbying state government to all ex-lawmakers instead of just the presiding officers.
Afterward, bill sponsor Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said the move was unrelated to the Senate's decision to scrap the higher campaign-finance limits.
But he admitted the House still stood behind the bill it passed last month (HB 569) boosting the $500 limits to $3,000 for legislative candidates and $5,000 for statewide candidates like the governor. "We felt like our campaign-finance [bill] was the right thing to do, and I still do," Boyd said.
His Senate counterpart, Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, has said he's been told by the House that the two bills were linked. Weatherford has said so in the past.
House Speaker-designate Steve Crisafulli, the Merritt Island Republican who chairs the State Affairs committee, said afterward that his chamber needed more time to digest the differences between the two sides -- but expressed a smidge of skepticism about the ethics bill's future. His committee is slated to meet next week for perhaps the final time.
"If we can look over the bill and come to a consensus on the final bill language, then certainly we will bring it back up," he said. "And that's what we've got to do over the next several days."
Lawmakers have until the May 3 end of session to resolve their differences.
(c)2013 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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