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Big cash for Florida politicians: How 3 locals might benefit

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has made passage of a campaign finance reform bill one of his priorities, but not everyone calls this "reform."
Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford has made passage of a campaign finance reform bill one of his priorities, but not everyone calls this "reform."
Florida House

It’s going to cost a whole lot more money to get your legislator’s attention, or get your corporate welfare, or tax loophole, or whatever. The bill to change the campaign donation limit from $500 to $10,000 in exchange for full donor disclosures and effectively ending CCEs (Committees of Continuing Existence), HB-569 – the darling bill of House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel) – is moving ahead.

This page recently criticized a so-called watchdog group for its endorsement of this ridiculous bill and the false equivalency argument presented. Somehow Floridians are so stupid that they believe increasing campaign donation limits by 20 times the current level is a fair trade for closing down CCEs and their primary function of funneling money. Further, Floridians are unable to imagine how money will make its way to politicians without CCEs. Duh.

Let's see how this change in the donation cap might impact the finances of three local elected legislators.

Jack Latvala
Jack Latvala Facebook-Latvala

Jack Latvala

Not everyone is either stupid or silent. State Sen. Jack Latvala (R-St. Petersburg) has a capacity to buck the trend and engage in plain speak at different times. He has chosen this bill on which to unload some refreshing common sense:

“If you say you’re going to reform the process, then reform the process,” said Latvala

“Every candidate can get up to $10,000 per contributor and give an unlimited amount from the party and that leads to a whole new area for money,” he said. “The last thing we need in this process is more money.”

“I raised $600,000 this year without breaking a sweat and I gave $150,000 to charity,” Latvala said. “What would I do with four times that much.”

He didn’t even have a serious opponent; she raised $950.

Technically, Latvala raised $591,000 in 2012, so raising sufficient funds was not much of an issue. Since candidates – incumbents in particular – have to be adept at fundraising, let’s consider what might happen to 3 candidates if the top donation was $10,000 instead of $500.

Not every $500 donation is automatically going to turn into a $10,000 donation if this bill passes the Senate where it has drawn the most skepticism. But certain donors have the ability to write a bigger check than $500 and would do so willingly. Remember, Sen. Latvala didn’t even have serious opposition and over a half million dollars rolled in. He didn’t have to beg; many candidates don’t.

Taking campaign finance information from the Florida Division of Elections web site which candidates are required to report, we can gauge what some impact from this change might be. Let’s look locally.

Dennis Baxley
Dennis Baxley Florida House

Dennis Baxley

State Rep. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) has served in the Florida House for over eight years, having been elected to his fifth term. With time comes seniority and Baxley is definitely a leader in the House who has gotten key committee assignments. His new district is redder Republican than his old one, so he is unlikely to face a serious challenger until he has to step aside in 2018 due to term limits. There was no challenger in 2012 and he still raised $96,000.

Taking his richest reporting period, October 1-December 31, 2011 when he raised over $60,000, a look at the donors reveals $500 donors among associations like Florida Pharmacy PAC CCE, Florida Sheriffs CCE, Florida Dental PAC, Florida Bankers Association, Florida Outdoor Advertising, etc. Then there are some dandy corporate donors like Genentech, TECO Energy, CSX, Chevron, Walgreens, Progress Energy and Duke Energy, Publix, Walt Disney, Abbott Labs, Liberty Mutual, Caremark, etc. These are organizations – not considering individuals – that would likely drop $2,500 into the hat if that was the expectation. Counting 78 such organizations making $500 donations in this one filing, making it $2,500 would convert $39,000 into $195,000, or almost twice the entire donation amount for all 2012. Obviously, that’s really low-balling the possible impact, but it allows that not all would put up $10,000 and without real competition, they may hedge on $5,000. But $2,500? Sure.

If half of those – 39 donors – gave $2,500 and the other half gave $10,000, the total jumps to $487,000! Just 39 donors at $10,000 would yield $390,000. Again, that is only one reporting period.

Clovis Watson
Clovis Watson Clovis Watson campaign web site

Clovis Watson

Now let’s try rookie State Rep. Clovis Watson (D-Gainesville) who is also in a district where he is supposed to win and is unlikely to face a major challenger unless he severely alienates his constituents. His only real challenge was in the primary, facing middle school teacher Marihelen Wheeler.

Watson was doing just fine with fundraising in this easy district, but he sought and received the endorsement of the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Up to that point, he had raised about $40,000 to Wheeler’s $30,000. The Chamber’s seal of approval changed his campaign finances really fast. By November, his campaign had raked in almost $90,000. A look at Watson’s report from the period before the primary – July 21-August 9 – was his richest 2 ½ weeks at $23,615.

Thanks, no doubt, to the Chamber, a lot of the same donors appear as in Baxley’s report. Florida Architects Political Action, Florida Cattle PAC, Florida Hospital Association were a few associations listed. Noteworthy corporate donors include NextEra Energy (Florida Power), Walt Disney, Publix, Plum Creek, HCA, WellCare, WalMart, Progress Energy and Duke Energy, and Health Management. Using the same criteria, those $500 donor organizations on this one report reveals 35 such donors who, if tossing aside $2,500 instead, would convert that $17,000 into $87,500, or nearly the whole amount his campaign raised in 2012, this amount from just a few of the deep pocketed organizations who gave to his campaign.

Again, half of those donors giving $2,500 – just 17 – produces $42,500, while half giving $10,000 – only 18 – brings the grand total of this group for just this single reporting period to $222,500! More than twice the whole take for all of 2012! Cha-ching!

Dorothy Hukill
Dorothy Hukill Florida Senate

Dorothy Hukill

Let’s do one more: newbie State Senator Dorothy Hukill (R-Port Orange) whose grab for this open Senate seat was heavily contested by Volusia Democrat Frank Bruno. Hukill raised $540,000 to Bruno’s $377,000. In her last report – October 15-November 1, 2012 – Hukill recorded about $63,500 in donations in those 2 weeks, better than 10% of her total. Using the same criteria, if those $500 donor organizations on this home stretch report – 103 such donors over just 2 weeks – could juice the gift to $2,500, it would convert $51,500 into $257,500.

Watch what happens when we tweak the numbers; half of these donors – 52 – giving $2,500 bring $130,000 and the other half – 51 – at $10,000 boosts the total to $640,000 just for this 2 week period! It’s more than the campaign raised in all of 2012, captured in just 2 weeks.

You can see how State Senate races would command multi-million dollar campaigns routinely if this bill passes. Even State Representatives in safe seats would have to figure out how to dispose of $250,000 and up every two years. The math is staggering.

Hopefully, Sen. Latvala and the other senators will squash this abomination posing as “campaign reform” legislation. There is plenty of money flowing into campaigns without lifting the campaign donation limit, and there is no way lifting the caps in exchange for fast, full disclosure reporting is at all reasonable. There should be fast, full disclosure reporting regardless.

Kill Will’s bill!

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