Fla. legislature passes sweeping campaign finance and ethics reform legislation

35200_florida-legislatureHistoric campaign finance and ethics reform legislation was approved by the Florida Legislature Wednesday. The bills were key components of the joint “Work Plan Florida” agenda Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, announced in January.

The House and Senate issued a joint statement:

“Speaker Weatherford is Florida’s champion for more transparent, ethical standards for campaign financing, and I am pleased to celebrate with him today as we send these critical pieces of legislation to the Governor’s desk,” Gaetz said. “Public office is a public trust. In order for private sector job creators to trust us in dealing with economic issues or for our constituents to have confidence in our ability to address issues like education and health care, first they have to trust us period. These pieces of legislation demonstrate that the Florida Legislature is serious about comprehensive ethics reform – from the way we run our campaigns to the way we conduct legislative business.”

“Higher ethical standards are just one more difference between Florida and Washington,” Gaetz continued. “I am grateful to Chairman Latvala who led the efforts to craft this legislation in the Senate. Thanks to his good work and the work of our House colleagues, we have taken this historic step to end current abuses and provide our constituents with much-needed transparency, and we have begun the process of restoring and maintaining their confidence in government. I look forward to the Governor signing this bill into law.”

“I appreciate Senator Gaetz and Chairman Latvala’s commitment to passing meaningful ethics and campaign finance reform.  Throughout this process, they have been wonderful partners in promoting higher ethical standards for candidates and lawmakers,” Weatherford said.  “By increasing accountability and transparency in our election system, we can ensure there is sanity in our campaign finance laws.  Combined with our ethics reforms, we are helping to ensure those elected are held to a higher standard.”

Campaign Finance Reform

House Bill 569 is a multipurpose campaign finance bill that eliminates Committees of Continuous Existence through a de-certification process on September 30, 2013, increases the frequency of campaign finance reporting for candidates, political committees and electioneering communications organizations and prohibits candidates who switch races from “double-dipping” contributors for maximum contributions in both races. The bill modifies the current $500 per election individual contribution limit for candidates as follows: $3,000 for statewide and Supreme Court candidates and $1,000 for other candidates. The bill also subjects individuals seeking a publicly-elected position on a political party executive committee to a new reporting requirement.

Ethics Reform

SB 2 places elected officials’ financial disclosures online, provides the Commission on Ethics more authority including the ability to garnish the public and private salaries of officials who fail to pay fines for ethics and elections violations, requires state officers to abstain from voting on matters that benefit them directly, requires ethics training for constitutional officers, places greater restrictions on public employment while in office, and prohibits officials from accepting gifts from political committees. The bill allows public officials to place assets in a blind trust to help avoid potential conflicts of interest and allows the use of certified public accountants or attorneys when preparing financial disclosures. The bill provides for the filing of ethics complaints all the way up to the day of an election, currently prohibited within the 5 days preceding an election, but requires that complaints filed within 30 days of an election be based on actual knowledge of a violation not hearsay to stop the filing of frivolous politically motivated complaints. Additionally, the bill bars current and former legislators from lobbying the executive and legislative branches after leaving office. SB 4 provides the same safeguards for new provisions allowing the Ethics Commission to initiate investigations based on referrals from the Governor, Department of Law Enforcement, and the state and U.S. Attorneys that already exist for investigations based on a complaint. Currently, the Commission can only act on a complaint filed by a citizen.

President Gaetz and Speaker Weatherford identified campaign finance and ethics reform as priorities in the House and Senate’s “Work Plan Florida.” To date, the House and Senate have accomplished three of the five items, including higher education, campaign finance and ethics reform.


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