Miami Herald: Florida Senate passes ‘electioneering law’ changes

Mar 25, 2010

The Miami Herald published this article on March 25, 2010


Associated Press Writer

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — After a sharp Senate debate Wednesday, a bill is headed to Gov. Charlie Crist’s desk that would revive and modify a Florida “electioneering” law that was ruled unconstitutional last year by a federal judge who said it violated freedom of speech.

The debate, though, wasn’t about that part of the bill. It focused on a rider that would let the House speaker and Senate president and leaders of the minority party in each chamber establish a special political fund that could be used to help favored candidates.

Passage came during a rare evening session after the Senate waived a rule that normally would have delayed a vote until Thursday. Crist has said he’s not sure yet whether he will sign it into law.

The Senate passed the bill (HB 1207) 25-11 with most Republicans in favor and most Democrats against due to differences over the legislative funds.

U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle last year ruled Florida’s “electioneering communications” law violated constitutional guarantees of free speech by requiring nonpolitical organizations to register with the state and comply with financial reporting requirements if they so much as mentioned a candidate or issue.

The bill still would require some groups and individuals engaged in “election-related activities” to register with the state if they raise more than $5,000, but not those focused only on issues. It also deletes other requirements Mickle deemed violations of free speech rights.

The bill last week passed the House 73-42 on a straight party-line vote.

In the Senate, three Democrats voted for it, including Democratic Leader Al Lawson of Tallahassee, while two Republicans opposed the measure.

Arguing against the bill, Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said the new “Affiliated Party Committees” would amount to a revival of leadership funds abolished 20 years ago.

“You’ve now given four people the power to raise unlimited amounts of money and that money will be solely under the personal control of the leaders,” Joyner said. “It also consolidates the control of the leaders in each chamber to use the funds they accumulate to wield even greater influence over their own members.”

Legislative leaders have continued to raise money for the same purpose through the state Democratic and Republican parties. GOP legislative leaders, though, recently pulled nearly $1 million out of party coffers amid complaints of lavish spending by the party’s former chairman.

Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, argued the bill includes reporting requirements that would make the funds more transparent.

“This is sunshine,” Haridopolos said. “People deserve to know when they see the commercials on TV where the money came from and who raised the money.”