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Fla. bill will raise campaign contribution limits

Brendan Farrington, Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A bill that would raise Florida campaign contribution limits from $500 to $3,000 per election cycle while requiring candidates to more often report who gives them money and how it is spent passed the Legislature on Wednesday and now goes to Gov. Rick Scott.

Contribution limits to legislative and local candidates would increase from $500 to $1,000 per election cycle.

It's not clear, though, if Scott will sign the bill. The governor, who faces re-election next year, has said he's opposed to raising contribution limits.

"No one has shown me a rationale for raising these limits, so I don't know why we would be doing it," said Scott, who would not go as far to say he would veto it.

But Scott might have to make a decision before the session ends May 3. That means the Legislature can wait to see what he does before deciding whether to pass Scott's priorities, including eliminating a 6 percent sales tax on equipment bought by Florida manufacturers.

Sen. Jack Latvala said the measure (HB 569) will provide more transparency to money in politics. Right now, candidates file campaign finance reports every three months until two months before a primary election, when they have to file reports every two weeks through the general election. The bill would require statewide candidates to file monthly reports, then weekly reports after the candidate qualifying period. Daily reports would have to be filed the last 10 days before the general election.

"There's going to be money in politics. You're not going to be able to take money out of politics," said Latvala, R-Palm Harbor. "The best we're going to be able to do in the long run is to provide transparency."

The bill also eliminates committees of continuing existence, or CCEs, which critics say some lawmakers use as a slush fund for travel, meals and entertaining that have nothing to do with the committees' political purposes. But lawmakers would still be able to form other political committees and take unlimited contributions. The bill, though, prohibits lawmakers from accepting gifts of any value from political committees.

The government accountability group Common Cause Florida criticized the bill.

"The bill passed today by the Senate does nothing to lessen the flow of money pumping through the political process at every turn and creates little transparency which was supposedly leadership's main goal," Brad Ashwell, the group's lobbyist, said in prepared statement. "It still invites more money into the political process in one area while doing nothing to limit money flowing through political committees or the parties."

During floor debate, Latvala said the higher contribution limits may mean more money goes directly to candidates rather than to political committees.

The bill passed the Senate on a 37-2 vote, with Democratic Sens. Joseph Abruzzo of Wellington and Jeff Clemens of Lake Worth voting against it.

Clemens was opposed to a provision in the bill that would allow lawmakers to keep up to $20,000 in campaign money for their re-election. Right now lawmakers aren't allowed to rollover any campaign money. Opponents of the provision argued that it unfairly benefits incumbents.

The House later passed the bill on a 79-34 vote.


Associated Press writer Gary Fineout contributed to this report.

Follow Brendan Farrington on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bsfarrington