Changes to how political campaigns are financed are brewing in Tallahassee; yesterday the House gave second-reading approval to a bill that would outlaw committees of continuous existence and raise the amount of money a candidate may accept from $500 to $10,000 per donor.
The House Bill is set for third reading, and passage to the Senate, today.
“They say money in politics is like rain on sidewalks,” House Rules and Calendar Committee chairman Robert Schenck told reporters. “It always finds the cracks.”
In St Johns County during the 2012 Presidential Election cycle, besides the executive committees of the Democratic and Republican parties and their local clubs, three such committees filed reports with Supervisor of Elections, Vicky Oakes.
The major committee in St Johns County was “Citizens for a Better St Johns”. They spent a total of $38,400 during the election. They were represented by William S. Jones of Tallahassee; all three committees are listed as “inactive” at this time.
Some committees were small, like “Single Member Districts – St Johns County” that raised and spent $110.28 during the election. Others, like “St Johns County Families”, received a small in-kind donation of about $50, but coupled that with $3,650.00 worth of reported cash contributions.
Schenck , the Spring Hill representative, believes that, what he refers to as “shadowy committees of continuous existence”, can be founded by legislators to help their political allies; and, because of their ability to raise large amounts of cash, they are able to dominate advertising channels in those legislative races.
That may change when St Augustine Senator John Thrasher and the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee get the bill. The committee chairman, Senator Jack Latvala, says he wants to include the Democratic and Republican parties in any proposed campaign finance restrictions and he has concerns that the House bill goes “too far”.
Some in the Capitol, and many in the public, see these “committees” as fundamentally flawed; because they can raise unlimited cash and spend it attacking or boosting certain candidates with a degree of obscurity — if not anonymity.
Similarly obscure “electioneering communications organizations” allow donors and candidates to keep their own hands clean while running very effective smear campaigns on their behalf.
That said, political insiders report that the $500 contribution limit is likely to be raised, since it’s about 20-years-old. Faster reporting of “who gave it, and who got it” is also likely.