A new day in Florida politics: ethics, campaign reforms

April 26, 2013 

Bradenton Rep. Jim Boyd earned his stripes this legislative session as one of the pivotal figures in sweeping ethics and campaign finance reforms. As chair of the House Ethics and Elections Subcommittee, Boyd helped lead a bipartisan effort to rein in the Florida's questionable political integrity.

Over in the other chamber, Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano also played a key role as the chamber president's point man in drafting ethics legislation.

Both the campaign finance measure, HB 569, and the ethics legislation, SB 2, now head to Gov. Rick Scott's desk. Wednesday's House vote on the ethics bill came in unanimous approval, 117-0 vote, a tribute to bipartisanship.

Both Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford established the reforms as their top priorities before the session. While loopholes remain in both bills, Florida is on the right path with the most significant reforms in more than 35 years. Additional reforms can be composed down the road.

Key ethics changes

Financial disclosure forms must be posted in a searchable online database accessible to the public, allowing voters to check on potential conflicts of interest. The new process should yield more information, too.

Public officials will be required to undergo additional ethics training, a result of the troubling number of ethical lapses and corruption cases in the state.

Floridians can file ethics complaints through the governor's office, state law enforcement agencies, and state and federal prosecutors, which would refer credible cases to the Florida Commission on Ethics. Frivolous accusations wouldn't reach the ethics panel. We had hoped the commission would have been granted the power to initiate investigations without first receiving formal complaints, but this is a reasonable improvement.

The commission will be able to enforce fines on public officials by garnishing their wages should payment requests be ignored, as is all too often the case now. The bill also lengthens the time span allowed for collecting fines, from four to 20 years. The basically powerless panel has written off about $1 million in fines over the past decade.

Legislators would be prohibited from lobbying either the legislative or executive branches for two years after leaving office. That will help dilute their influence over agencies and companies they previously regulated.

Major campaign reforms

Statewide candidates, their political committees, and statewide communications and electioneering organizations must report contributions daily during the final 10 days before an election. Legislative candidates must also report donations every two weeks after qualifying for office. Other campaigns have less demanding requirements. These valuable transparency improvements will allow voters to watch the money and influence flow before casting ballots.

Campaign contribution limits would increase to $3,000 for statewide candidates and $1,000 for legislative and all other candidates. The previous limit of $500 was set 20 years ago, an outdated cap not only because of inflation but in light of U.S. Supreme Court rulings allowing unlimited contributions. The state House originally proposed no cap, but the Senate balked and won this adequate compromise.

Committees of Continuing Existence, long known for spending abuses and little transparency, would be eliminated. But the bill allows new political action committees to collect unlimited contributions like CCEs and spend limited amounts directly on campaigns unlike CCEs. While this may be a questionable change, at least the new PACS must adhere to strict transparency rules.

While these reforms do not correct all that is wrong in Florida politics, they are a giant leap forward. With Gov. Scott's commitment to fight corruption and instill greater integrity in government, we anticipate his signature -- despite his opposition to any increase in direct campaign contributions.

Bradenton Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service