Senate President Mike Haridopolos has had a series of evolving answers when he keeps getting asked about fundraising for his U.S. Senate race.
When he first jumped into the race, Haridopolos said he had not yet made up his mind on whether he would raise money during the 2011 session.
Then in February he added a new answer: Ask incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson if he planned to stop raising money while the U.S. Senate was in session.
The Merritt Island Republican brushed aside any suggestion at the time that his situation was different from Nelson even though the Florida Legislature meets for just 60 days and even though Haridopolos has considerable more power as leader of the state Senate.
So I asked about it this week at his press availability and here's what he had to say:
"I’m not doing any fundraising events," Haridopolos said.
That led to this followup: "You're not doing any fundraising events. You're not making any phone calls, not talking to anybody?"
Haridopolos: "I’m running against someone who is raising money during their session right now. And as you know I follow the law, that’s exactly what I’m doing."
A short while later, I asked a follow-up question which prompted this exchange:
"You said follow the law, I’m confused here because your rules ban fundraising during the session."
Haridopolos: "Gary, you need to read the rules."
"No, I have read the rules sir."
"Let me just finish," Haridopolos said.
"No, the interpretation is based on a federal court ruling. It’s not in your rules."
Haridopolos then said that previous Democratic members of the Florida Legislature had raised money during session:
"We have now Congresswoman (Debbie) Wasserman Schultz, we have Congressman (Ted) Deutch, we have Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, we had former Congressman Ron Klein. They all chose to raise money during session. Al Lawson chose to. That is an opportunity if they choose to do it. All I said, and I said it in this room, is that my opponent Bill Nelson is raising money and has never stopped. And I’m doing the same thing. I’m choosing not to have events as you see me up here every day. You’ve seen our agenda be followed. That’s what people are concerned about and that’s what I’m focused on. I think given the pace that we are going through no one is questioning where my focus is. My focus is how do we turn around this state, how do we turn around this economy, how do we tighten our own belts and that’s exactly what I’m doing."
So let's dissect this just a bit.
In regards to the rules of the Florida Senate, you can read them for yourself:
1.361—Solicitation or acceptance of contributions; registration
and disclosure requirements
(1) During any regular legislative session, extended session, or
special session, a Senator may not directly or indirectly solicit, cause to
be solicited, or accept any contribution on behalf of either the Senator’s
own campaign, any organization described under section 527 or section
501(c)(4) of the Internal Revenue Code, any political committee, any
committee of continuous existence, any political party, or the campaign of
any candidate for the Senate; however, a Senator may contribute to his or
her own campaign.
So how candidates raise money during session? Because there have been series of legal opinions from the attorneys who work for the Legislature on whether the rules apply to those seeking federal office.
Most of those opinions have cited a 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from 1996 that struck down a Georgia law that barred legislators in that state from raising money during session if they were a federal candidate. The court concluded that the state could not pass laws that preempted federal campaign finance laws.
Interestingly enough, then-House general counsel Jeremiah Hawkes in 2007 issued a formal opinion where he cast doubt on the use of the federal ruling. Hawkes agreed that a 11th Circuit ruling was binding on Florida, but he added no other court had dealt with the issue and that ruling was not unanimous.
Hawkes also noted that "there does not seem to be any case that invalidates a legislative rule of procedure because of the preemption doctrine. Parliamentary bodies are given a wide range of discretion when it comes to governing the behavior of their members that can go beyond what can be regulated in statute."
Hawkes said in his opinion that House candidates were not barred from accepting contributions from federal races because the House rule was tied to a state law that did not cover federal candidates. Hawkes, however, cautioned that House members still had to follow another rule that says members should not take anything that could be construed to influence their vote.
"The fact that a solicitation was made during session could increase the likelihood that it would be perceived as influencing the member's vote,'' he wrote.
Just to note the Florida Senate does have a similar rule as well:
A Senator shall not accept anything that will improperly influence his
or her official act, decision, or vote.
But unlike the House rule the current Senate rule on solicitation is not linked to the state law that is limited to just state and local candidates.