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Campaign Finance Reform Update

April 12, 2004

The legislature's Ethics and Elections committees have had one of their business Sessions in recent memory. The Senate has already approved their version of the constitutional reform package and the House will attempt to advance their reform product this week. Another important issue that has been over shadowed a bit by the initiative reform effort is campaign finance reform.

In February, Governor Jeb Bush, Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon) and Rep. Allan Bense (R-Panama City) stood shoulder to shoulder at a press conference and announced their intention to support campaign finance reform legislation that would ultimately hold Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs) to the same disclosure standards as other political funds. The three Republican leaders indicated to reporters "If you are willing to put your money where your mouth is, you should be willing to show your face." The legislative packages being advanced would force disclosure of CCEs but it impose other significant campaign finance reforms as well.

Here is an overview of CS/SB 2346 & 516 by Lee (R-Brandon) and Constantine (R-Altamonte Springs) and HB 1793 by Speaker Pro Tempore Harrington (R-Punta Gorda). Fortunately, the Senate package will most likely be the starting point in conference for the legislature as it is the least contentious of the two bills. Both products create a definition of "electioneering activities" and they clarify CCE guidelines as they relate to political involvement. The bills create new laws surrounding CCE contribution and expenditure reporting, they create new disclaimer requirements for certain campaign advertisements, and they address electronic filing guidelines for CCEs and other political committees. The House bill would create significant contribution limits to CCEs, but again these limits are not expected to make it through the Senate.

Electioneering Advertisement/Campaigning: Currently, there is not a law defining "electioneering advertisement" or "electioneering campaigning". Both the Senate and House bills create a new definition of electioneering activities, however the Senate product goes a bit further than the House's to include paid issue advocacy advertisements affecting Candidates or ballot issues. The House version only addresses those paid issue ads that directly link an issue to a clearly identified candidate.

CCE Expenditure Reporting: Both bills would clarify existing language that prohibits CCEs from participating in "electioneering activities". Current law requires the creation of political committees for such activities. Beyond the clarification of prohibition, the proposed law would full expenditure disclosure of all CCE activities.

CCE Contributions Received Reporting: Currently, CCEs are not required to provide detailed accounting of each contribution received in the form of membership dues. Only the aggregate amount of dues and the number of members are to be reported. For example, a CCE would report that "ten" members paid a total of $100,000 in dues. Both bills would close this "membership loophole" by requiring CCEs to periodically report membership dues in the same manner as regular contribution (name, address and occupation). The House bill would limit membership dues to $500. Other contributions would not be limited, except to say that current law requires that a CCE's membership dues must account for 25% of the groups total contributions.

Electioneering Disclaimer Requirements: Existing law requires sponsorship identification disclaimers for issue advocacy ("Paid for by the People for a Better Way of Life"). The Senate version would add to the current requirement the following statement: "For more information about campaign finance, visit the Florida Division of Elections website at..." The House bill goes a bit further requiring that each add include, as a disclaimer, the name of the persons responsible for the ad, including street address and a list of the four largest contributors to the committee. It goes on the include more specific and restricting size and display requirements.

Political Committee Definition: Perhaps the most concerning element of either bill is the expanded definition of a political committee. Both the House and the Senate would include groups that "accept contributions" and "make expenditures" for the purpose of conducting electioneering activities. The House also adds to the definition "political organizations subject to the requirements of 26 U.S.C. s. 527". This perhaps is over kill, either versions definition of "electioneering" would be enough to include tax exempt structures such as "527 organizations" or "501c4s".