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Campaign rules ride on harmony in Capitol

Fundraising will likely be further limited by a Legislature that is expected to reflect its new leaders' friendship.

By ALISA ULFERTS
Published November 16, 2004

TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Legislature meets today with a new spirit in the air and broad new restrictions on the table aimed at limiting the influence of campaign money.

The Senate and House plan to pass rules that will broaden the ban on campaign fundraising by lawmakers during the regular 60-day spring session to special and extended sessions, which have been opportunities for lawmakers to get lobbyists to fatten their re-election accounts.

The ban also will cover separate groups controlled by lawmakers that can collect unlimited donations to support their campaigns for legislative leadership posts. Lawmakers who form such groups must promptly create a Web site and report all contributions within 10 business days.

Rep. Allan Bense, R-Panama City, the new House speaker, said he and the new Senate president, Tom Lee, R-Brandon, favor more disclosure of donations.

"I think it's time," Bense said. "I think the public perceives it in a much better light."

Sen. Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said the Web site provision tracks a decision by Lee to regularly update all contributions to a committee he founded through a Web site (www.flust.com)

Bense and Lee are determined to work together more smoothly than their predecessors, House Speaker Johnnie Byrd and Senate President Jim King. Both were Republicans, yet barely spoke.

"Their relationship was dysfunctional, and because of that, a lot of agreed-upon policy decisions died," Gov. Jeb Bush said. "And that was disappointing. I'm trying to be polite."

Lee and Bense not only speak to each other, but they genuinely like each other. They even issue joint public statements and their staffs meet with Bush's policy people.

"I'm very optimistic," Bush said. "I don't think you'll see the games that were played last year, especially at the end of session."

Bense and Lee have taken time to get to know each other and their families. Bense has had lunch with Lee and his father, Lee's most trusted adviser.

"I relate to Allan Bense on a personal level and on a professional level. I genuinely like him. I think he's a reasonable guy," Lee said. "I think we understand the human psychology of what it takes to get people to work together."

They will have plenty to occupy them, beginning with securing relief for hurricane victims and those without health insurance.

Legislation also is needed to enact several constitutional amendments, including one that guarantees free prekindergarten classes to all Florida 4-year-olds. Bush plans a major push on growth management and Medicaid, the state-federal health care program for the poor.

Bense said one reason for their good relationship is that neither has designs on a personal legacy.

And that doesn't necessarily mean passing a bunch of legislation, Bense said.

"I didn't pass any legislation last year, and when I go home and tell people that, I get a standing ovation," Bense said.

"My legacy might be to not leave a legacy," Bense said.

Lee agrees.

"I don't think speaker of the House or Senate president is what either of us wants on our tombstone," Lee said.

Also Monday, Lee appointed several Tampa Bay area senators to chair committees: Victor Crist, R-Tampa, the Appropriations subcommittee on Criminal Justice; Nancy Argenziano, R-Dunnellon, the Committee on Governmental Oversight and Productivity; Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island, the Committee on Regulated Industries and the Joint Legislative Committee on Intergovernmental Relations; Jim Sebesta, R-St. Petersburg, the Committee on Transportation; and Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, the Appropriations subcommittee on Transportation and Economic Development.

Today is the organizational meeting at the Capitol.

[Last modified November 16, 2004, 00:39:15]


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