(UPDATE: Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday afternoon vetoed HB 1207, saying that he was concerned about the leadership funds portion of the bill.)
(UPDATE: Post clarifies the restriction on how much can be spent before the 28 days before the election.)
Gov. Charlie Crist must decide today whether or not to sign, veto or let become law without his signature HB 1207 - the campaign finance measure that the GOP-controlled Legislature sent to him a week ago.
But while there has been a lot written about the key function of the bill - the creation of "leadership funds" or affiliated party committees - there may be some elements that aren't well known.
So here's a few other things you may not know about the legislation:
1. Want to give a free plane ride to the next Senate president or House speaker despite Florida's four-year-old gift ban? Well you can now. Just like donors can give in-kind contributions - including plane rides - to the political parties they will able to do the same with the affiliated party committees. Legislative leaders must disclose a written acceptance of the in-kind donation along with their normal campaign reports. But that requirement is not required of any in-kind donations of food and drink worth up to $1,500 which is "consumed at a single setting."
The gift has to "be accepted" by the legislative leader and it must be for the "direct benefit" of the leadership fund. A "direct benefit" includes but is not limited to fundraising or furthering the objectives of the affiliated party committee. Who decides whether the gift has a direct benefit? Well that would be the legislative leader since they are the only ones authorized to accept the in-kind donation.
2. Want to ask current legislators to pony up money to their own legislative leaders? That too is tucked into this bill. Just like legislators have the right to hand over any unused campaign donations to the party this bill would allow state House members to give $10,000 to the affiliated party committees and would allow Senate members to give up to $30,000 to them.
3. It has already been reported that the leadership funds can give up to $50,000 to any legislative candidate. That's true, but the changes go a bit beyond that. The new bill removes the restriction that no more than half of that amount - or $25,000 - can be given to a candidate prior to the four weeks before an election. And that change applies not just to affiliated party committees but the political parties as well.
But wait, there's more. This bill not only lets legislative leaders give money to legislators - it also allows them to give money to people running for governor, for chief financial officer, for attorney general and for agriculture commissioner. And the limit is not $50,000. It's $250,000. So if the incoming Senate President or House Speaker wants to help out a particular statewide candidate they can do it.
And guess what? That $250,000 limit DOES NOT apply to polling, cost of campaign staff, consultants etc. This means a candidate for statewide office could bankroll key chunks of their entire campaign with the help of a legislative leader.
Additionally a current restriction in law that says that parties can spend no more than $125,000 prior to the final four weeks has also been removed.
4. One of the key arguments for those who favor the bill is that it would remove a current legal fiction regarding contributions to political parties. The bill allows the public to see what donations are given to parties on behalf of legislative leaders. The argument is that this will create more transparency and get rid of the wink and a nod that goes on now whenever a legislative leader raises money for the party.
But it's worth pointing out that there is no requirement to set up these affiliated party committees. Some people who raise money for the Florida Democratic Party have suggested that it be would politically foolhardy to have a legislative leader of the minority party actually show what money he or she raised. Donors who give to the minority party leader would be then be placed under pressure by the majority party to curtail their contributions.
Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland and sponsor of the bill, dismissed that idea. He said that both parties are keenly aware of which donors give money to the parties on behalf of legislative leaders.
5. Despite all the controversy surrounding the leadership fund aspect, the bill does attempt to re-regulate third party groups known as 527s or electioneering communication organizations. It requires these groups to register with the state if they plan to run ads, do direct-mail or call voters 30 days before a primary and 60 days before the general election. The ads must include a recognized candidate for office and the purpose of the ad is "of no reasonable interpretation other than to appeal to vote for or against a specific candidate."
You may recall that Florida's current law regarding these third party groups was struck down by a federal judge last year. This bill attempts to reenact that law by removing the parts that ran into trouble. The new version mirrors similar restrictions that exist at the federal level, although it does go a bit further with the requirement that the law apply to "direct mail' advertisements along with television and radio ads.