Reforms to the states campaign finance laws passed the Florida House Friday, on a 75-39 vote.
HB 569 does away with a 20-year-old $500 cap for candidates, lifting it to $5,000 for statewide candidates and $3,000 for legislative runs. A successful amendment on the floor lowered the bills original limit for carrying over funds from $50,000 down to $20,000, bringing it in line with SB 1382, a similar measure moving through the Senate.
On Thursday, the Senate Community Affairs Committee unanimously approved its campaign-finance reform, sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater. Unlike the House version, the Senate keeps the $500 limit for legislators and goes with a more modest $3,000 for statewide candidates.
Florida is among the most expensive states in the nation to run statewide campaigns, given its geographical mass and super-sized rates for some media markets, like Miami at $350-a-point.
In a trade-off for increasing campaign contribution limits, the House voted to get rid of Committees of Continuous Existence (CCEs).A decertification process would eliminate CCEs by Sept. 30. However, the bill would still allow other political committees.
Democrats fought to keep campaign contribution limits at $500. But Republicans, like bill sponsor Rep. Robert Schenck, R-Spring Hill, equate contributions to free speech.
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, has championed the reforms as they have moved along the process, saying they allow for greater transparency, because higher limits mean more money will go to the campaigns directly, and thus make campaigns more responsible.
But, the fate of the House bill could rest with he who holds the pen. Gov. Rick Scotts office confirmed Friday that the governor is skeptical about the Houses limits. "Significantly increasing these limits concentrates more power to the already powerful and hurts the ability of individual citizens to be a part of the process," said Melissa Sellers, a Scott spokeswoman, according to the Florida Times-Union.
Political observers have quietly told Sunshine State News that the governor, who spent $70 million on his own campaign, may oppose the limits because it would make it easier for other gubernatorial candidates to compete with his checkbook.
With both sides arguing the merits of their case, one fact is certain: current limits have been in place for two decades without upward revisions. An SSN analysis revealed when Floridas 1990s limits are compared with other large states contribution caps, the Sunshine State pales in comparison.
Californias individual campaign contributions cap at $26,000 for gubernatorial candidates, $6,500 for statewide office and $3,900 for legislative candidates. These limits also apply for regular PACs, corporate and union contributions.
Small contributor committee PACs have a slightly higher contribution limit: $26,000 for gubernatorial candidates, $13,000 for statewide candidates and $7,800 for legislative candidates.
Texas doesnt have a contribution limit for individuals, state parties or PACs, but it does prohibit unions and corporations from taking part.
New York takes the largest bite of the apple, with the highest limits of any state that requires a campaign-finance limitation.
New York places a $150,000 aggregate limit for individual donations each year. As of 2012, individual contributions for gubernatorial campaigns are determined by a formula that considered the number of enrolled voters in a candidates party (excluding inactive voters). This number is then multiplied by $.005; however, this number cannot be lower than $6,500 or higher than $19,700.
Donations to legislative candidates in primary elections cap at $6,500 for Senate, and $4,100 for House. Contributions are limited to $10,300 for Senate candidates and $4,100 for House candidates in the general.
PAC and union contributions mirror individual limits, while corporations are limited to $5,000 in total contributions per year to New York state candidates and committees. State party contributions are unlimited.
Individual contributions are restricted to $5,000 per election cycle. State parties contributions are unlimited when contributing to a candidate who is not seeking nomination in a primary election. Contributions max out at $200,000 for statewide candidates, $125,000 for Senate candidates and $75,000 for House candidates, respectively.
PACs are allowed to contribute a maximum of $50,000 per election cycle, while corporate donations and union donations are limited to $10,000 per cycle.
Pennsylvanias campaign contribution limits mirror those of Texas. There are no caps on individual, state party, or PAC donations, but corporate and union donations are not allowed.
Sitting next to Florida in the "crucial swing state" column, Ohio's individual campaign contribution limits change frequently, because they are adjusted for inflation each odd-numbered year. Current limits will remain in effect until 2015.
This year, the individual contribution limit rose 5.3 percent, from $11,544 to $12,155. This limit applies to statewide candidates, House and Senate candidates, PAC contributions, and county party contributions. Limits differ, however, for other types of campaigns, and individual donations are larger for legislative campaign donations and state party donations. These limits max out at $18,233 and $36,466, respectively.
PAC campaign contributions limits are the same as individuals in every category except for county parties. PACs are prohibited from contributing to county parties. State parties have a $685,471 contribution limit for statewide candidates, $136,749 for Senate candidates, and $68,070 for House candidates. In-kind donations are unlimited. Lastly, corporate and union donations are prohibited.
Will Florida catch these large states? Only time, and the governor's pen, will tell.
Allison Nielsen writes special to the News.