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State senator says sweepstakes bill being held hostage

By PAUL WILBORN and LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 25, 1998


TALLAHASSEE -- Legislation regulating the way sweepstakes companies promote their contests may not be a winner in Tallahassee this year.

Sen. Skip Campbell, D-Tamarac, said Friday that legislative leaders, under the sway of influential lobbyists, are keeping bills from coming to a floor vote in both chambers.

Campbell had once predicted his bill, which requires more and larger disclaimers in solicitations promising sweepstakes winnings, would be the "apple pie" issue of the session.

He had the support of Attorney General Bob Butterworth, who filed a lawsuit against American Family Publishers for deceptive advertising practices. And his bill was filed against a backdrop of news reports about elderly consumers who flew to Tampa thinking they were sweepstakes winners.

But Friday, Campbell said his bill was being held hostage by business lobbyists. To illustrate his point, he produced a collection of sweepstakes letters wrapped in chains.

"The lobbyists have taken control," Campbell said. "The Legislature should be acting -- it's our function to act on laws. If a legislator doesn't like a law they should amend it, but shouldn't kill it."

Campbell pointed a finger at H. Lee Moffitt, a former House speaker turned lobbyist from Tampa who represents American Family Publishers and Time Customer Service.

"He told me this bill would never get past the floor," Campbell said.

Sweepstakes bills have cleared committees in the House and Senate but have never come to a floor vote. With time running out for this legislative session, Campbell said sweepstakes legislation may be dead for now.

House Majority Leader Jim King says the House version of the bill is not moving because of questions raised by other businesses that have sweepstakes.

"If this bill passed it would apply to a bottle cap sweepstakes too," King said. "We didn't want to have a knee-jerk reaction."

Moffitt said Attorney General Bob Butterworth wants to study the issue and come back next year with a new bill.

But Butterworth's office disagreed.

"We supported Campbell's bill when it came out and we support it today," said Assistant Attorney General Kent J. Perez.

Perez said there are some problems with the House version of the bill, sponsored by Rep. Lisa Carlton. That bill started off similar to Campbell's but industry lobbyists were able to insert changes that Butterworth wants to study.

"The industry wants to make some changes we are not comfortable with," Perez said.

Campbell's bill, which targets direct mail promotions, would require companies to state the odds of winning a sweepstakes prize in the same color and size type as the prize itself. If the prize is listed on the envelope, the company would have to print the odds there too.

Companies offering sweepstakes would have to include their actual street addresses and would face civil penalties for continuing mailings to people who asked to be removed from their lists. They would also need to provide an 800 number for consumer questions about the sweepstakes.

"Senator Campbell's bill provides greater disclosures to consumers," said Perez.

But with companies like Disney, Anheuser-Busch, Coca Cola and McDonald's using sweepstakes to promote their products, the legislation drew a swarm of hostile lobbyists.

Ken Plante, who represents the Promotional Marketers Association, opposes the Campbell bill but has no problem with the heavily amended House version.

John Rodgers, lobbyist for the Florida Retail Association, says Campbell's bill gives him "heartburn."

Guy Spearman, lobbyist for Direct Marketing Associates, the folks who send out junk mail, said he has a long list of problems with Campbell's bill because it attempts to hold dozens of legitimate companies responsible for wrongs committed by American Family Publishers.

"I certainly hope it doesn't pass," Spearman said. "But if Campbell takes some of the right amendments, our objections could go away."

Campbell said that although he thought he had worked out problems with lobbyists in advance, "unfortunately they continue to press on this issue."

And that left Campbell steaming.

"These people aren't elected to do anything," he complained.

If the legislators aren't willing to vote on bills, he said, they should just let the lobbyists vote.


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