Florida lawmakers are expected today to take up and override the veto of HB 1207.
The bill is known by its critics as the "leadership funds" bill and by its proponents as a "transparency measure." It would essentially allow legislative leaders of both parties to set up their own campaign accounts - called affiliated party committees - that they could control. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the measure nearly a year ago.
But there are several questions that remain about how the legislation would work. Here's some issues that I wrote about last year about this bill.
1. Want to give a free plane ride to the next Senate president or House speaker despite Florida's five-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. Additionally, those who run for the Legislature will have to pay an assessment to the affiliated party committees.
3. 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.
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 last year. He said that both parties are keenly aware of which donors give money to the parties on behalf of legislative leaders.
5. Another question regarding the transparency is how often the press and public would get to see who is giving the money. Under this bill affiliated party committees would follow the same schedule as political parties when it comes to releasing campaign reports. Currently, parties release reports on a quarterly basis. So if someone gives money to a leader in January, the campaign finance report showing that would not be filed until mid-April.
A separate section of state law - 106.0701 - requires legislators who raise money for political organizations to disclose those donations on a public website within five days of deposit. A key question is whether or not legislative leaders intend to follow that section of law or will they argue that affiliated party committees aren't covered by it.