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    Reaction mild to call for election reform

    Support is lacking for a special session to deal with independent political operators.

    By LUCY MORGAN

    © St. Petersburg Times, published September 14, 2000


    TALLAHASSEE -- House Minority Leader Lois Frankel on Wednesday called for an emergency special session of the Legislature to deal with election reform.

    But it isn't likely to happen.

    Gov. Jeb Bush said he shares Frankel's concern about shadowy groups spending thousands of dollars this year, but doubts a special session would be appropriate.

    House Speaker John Thrasher said he doesn't think the problem rises to the level of seriousness that generally prompts a special session and its $40,000-a-day cost to taxpayers.

    A spokesman for Senate President Toni Jennings said she would not support spending taxpayer money on a special session, because the House failed to listen to her calls for campaign finance reform over the past two years.

    Thrasher said he doesn't believe outgoing legislators should deal with an issue that could be better handled next spring by new legislators.

    The proposal by Frankel, of West Palm Beach, comes in the wake of expenditures from independent committees run by the state's doctors, trial lawyers, police unions and business lobbyists.

    Late last year, a federal judge in Orlando ordered the state to stop trying to enforce a law requiring independent committees to file reports that disclose who is contributing and spending money on elections.

    The ruling, on appeal to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court in Atlanta, has allowed committees to target individual candidates and spend thousands of dollars trying to elect or defeat them.

    Frankel wants the Legislature to pass a bill that would require committees to tell the truth or face $50,000 fines, disclose the names of members and contributors, and register with the state Division of Elections.

    "During this election season we've seen a number of well-financed special interest groups throw bombs into campaigns to try to tear candidates down," Frankel said. Frankel isn't the only legislator complaining. Last week, state Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Oviedo, the man who will be House speaker in November if Republicans retain control, pledged to fix the committee reporting problem when legislators return next year.

    A bill that would have reinstated a law requiring committees to disclose contributions and expenditures died in the closing hours of this year's legislative session after state Sen. Ron Silver, D-North Miami Beach, attached a last-minute amendment to it.

    Silver said he didn't realize his amendment would kill the bill until it was too late.

    "It was something I thought legislators wanted," Silver said during a recent interview.

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    From the Times state desk