A gap in disclosure law obscures the makeup of new committees, several of whose mailings slam Republican candidates with primary opposition.
By LUCY MORGAN and JONI JAMES
Published August 25, 2004
TALLAHASSEE - The new committees making last-minute attacks on candidates don't sit well with Gov. Jeb Bush or legislative leaders.
Bush said Tuesday he is particularly unhappy about Republicans attacking each other.
"It's being done so that Republicans can scrape the bark off of other Republicans, which I find to be repugnant as well," he said. "Political discourse in our country has lost its way."
Mailboxes in some legislative districts are filled with attack brochures financed by special interests giving money to newly created committees with innocuous-sounding names.
Many of those committees registered in mid August so they would not have to disclose contributions or expenditures until the last minute. Campaign reports are due Friday, but candidates may not be able to learn who is behind the attacks before Tuesday's primary elections.
Incoming House Speaker Allan Bense said a new law is not working as he and incoming Senate President Tom Lee intended when they tried to require the identity of the committees and their backers to be clearer.
"Our goal was that we could know who is behind these issues," said Bense, R-Panama City. "This doesn't sit very well with me."
Lee, R-Brandon, said lawmakers may have to tackle the problem again next year.
"It sounds like they have found a way to beat the system," he said. "Back to the drawing board, I guess. It's amazing."
A handful of the committees - "Floridians for Integrity in Government," "Families for Victims Rights," "People for Fairness and Equality" and "Taxpayers for Conservative Government" - use the same mailing address with a different box. UPS rents the boxes for $12 a month and will not disclose who pays the tab or the mail.
Floridians for Integrity in Government is the creation of the Florida Home Builders Association, lobbyist Richard Gentry said. But the home builders did not send some of the literature that has been tied to them.
Gentry said the group did not send out a brochure comparing Republican House candidate Bill Bunkley of Tampa with Al Capone. The brochure was prepared for mailing but never sent, Gentry said.
Bunkley is opposing Rep. Kevin Ambler, R-Lutz, in a spirited race in Hillsborough County.
Bense said he also is unhappy that some of the attacks are Republicans attacking Republicans.
"I hate for us to violate Ronald Reagan's Eleventh Commandment and speak ill of another Republican," Bense said.
Bense is supporting Republican incumbents in the primary but has not taken sides in other Tampa Bay races with no incumbent.