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    Disclosure bill advances

    Independent political committees would be required to register and report contributions.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 8, 2001


    TALLAHASSEE -- Last year, a few independent committees created by doctors, trial lawyers and others with an ax to grind poured thousands of dollars into campaigns against some legislative candidates.

    On Wednesday, the very first bill to win preliminary approval in the House during the 2001 session was a bill designed to require those independent committees to once again file reports disclosing who is donating the money and how it is spent.

    A previous law requiring such disclosures was ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in December 1999 after lawyers for Florida Right To Life challenged it in court.

    That left the state without a law on the books and legislators failed to approve a similar bill last year.

    House Speaker Tom Feeney promised to pursue the bill last fall when legislative candidates in both parties found themselves under last-minute advertising attacks.

    During last year's elections, the Academy of Florida Trial Lawyers, Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Medical Association helped form committees that spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in legislative races. None of them had to file reports with state elections officials listing their expenditures.

    The bill will require all political committees organized to accept contributions of more than $500 during a single year to register with the state and file reports that list contributions and expenditures.

    The bill requires those who spend more than $10,000 a year to file electronic reports, which will make the reports available on the Division of Elections Web site on the day they are due. Any committee spending more than $1,000 on campaign advertising must report the expenditure within 24 hours after publication.

    The House plans to take a final vote on the bill today. Similar bills are pending in the Senate.

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    From the Times state desk