TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida House and Senate are taking ethics and elections seriously this year. Bills to widen voting opportunities by restoring pre-2011 early voting days and hours are making their way through both chambers.
But there's a bill in the House that would originally have increased campaign contribution limits from their current $500 to $10,000.
That was a big concern among some of the listeners who attended the WLRN Session 2013 Town Hall last month. It reminded some of the Citizens United case, which the U. S. Supreme Court decided by extending all the rights of human beings to corporations and unions. The effect of that was to remove all limits on corporate political expenditures.
This session, we are taking our listener questions directly to lawmakers for direct responses. This is our first one and it comes from Nicole Ung of Fort Lauderdale.
"I am worried that the Citizens United decision will affect the democratic process in the state the same way it does at the national level, by allowing big PACs to steer the legislation their way, away from the people. What can we do about it?"
We put the question to Broward County Democratic State Rep. Perry Thurston, the House minority leader. He said the Citizens United decision worries him, too, but the Legislature's possible changes to campaign contribution limits are an immediate concern.
"We think that less money in the electoral system would allow everyday citizens an opportunity," Thurston told us. "Some of our proposals that talk about expanding the amount of moneys that can be utilized for elections, we don't agree with that.
"I think what we do is, have your listeners and others contact their representatives and let them know they don't think that's reasonable, they don’t think it's reasonable to raise that from $500 to $10,000 dollars."
Thurston isn't alone in his mistrust of these sky-high campaign contribution limits. A bill in the Senate (SB 1382) sponsored by Ethics and Elections Committee chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would set lower limits on a sliding, office-by-office scale. It would allow statewide candidates, such as governors and Cabinet officers, to accept as much as $5,000. Judges, legislators and local candidates would have to be content with $3,000.
The revised House bill (HB 569) is stingier, with $3,000 as the limit for governors and statewide candidates, $2,000 for judges and the original $500 for local candidates and state legislators.
“I think that ($10,000) number is going to come down dramatically,” said House Speaker Will Weatherford. "That was the starting position to have a conversation. We never thought that $10,000 number was where we were going to land.”