Big political ad buyers can hide in a loophole
Want to learn who's donating millions for those party ads for Crist and Davis? Thanks to the Legislature, you can't, till days before the election.
By JONI JAMES
Published October 18, 2006
TALLAHASSEE - Want to know who's forking over the millions of dollars for the recent onslaught of television ads in the Charlie Crist-Jim Davis race for governor?
Too bad, because for the fourth year in a row, the Florida Legislature has not required the state's political parties to tell you.
Since state lawmakers did away with a second primary in 2002, Florida's Republican and Democratic parties have not been required to disclose who gave them money between the primary election and just days before the general election.
The contributors of millions of dollars of "soft money" will remain undisclosed until roughly 80 hours before the polls open on Nov. 7.
The Legislature and Gov. Jeb Bush in the spring increased financial reporting requirements for candidates and third-party political committees. Left unchanged, however, was the 2002 law that limits political parties campaign finance reports to just the Friday before an election.
"It's ridiculous," said Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach. "We do all this claiming that we're cleaning up the process and then we create a loophole you can drive a Mack truck through."
Gelber, along with other leaders, said the issue just never came to the fore. Individual lawmakers have promised to address the problem, but no one can recall any legislation being filed to do so.
Ben Wilcox of Common Cause Florida believes the issue has been scuttled for a reason. "I think that's why you're not seeing any action in the Legislature; the parties are fighting it," Wilcox said.
The head of Florida's Republican Party, Bush, said Tuesday he was surprised to hear of the impact of the law, and would support lawmakers' requiring more disclosure, perhaps as early as a special session he expects to call after the election to address the state's insurance crisis.
"The best campaign finance is total transparency. You get money, you take it from people," and then you report it in 48 hours, Bush said.
Florida Democratic Party spokesman Mark Bubriski said, "In general we're in favor of full disclosure, but we're going to play by the rules as they are written."
Senate President Tom Lee, R-Valrico, whose campaign for chief financial officer has focused heavily on his success pushing more campaign finance disclosure, acknowledged this issue had slipped passed him. "I'm not saying that anyone shouldn't have noticed," Lee said. "But I can just tell you no one ever mentioned the reporting intervals of the parties."
The political parties must submit, in electronic form, their disclosures by midnight Nov. 3. The reports should be accessible at the Division of Elections Web site, election.dos.state.fl.us, shortly after that.
As of Sept. 1, the date of the last report, the Republican Party had roughly $17-million in cash on hand; Democrats, $1.2-million.