No one could have predicted that convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky would be central to the Florida Legislature's debate over how to best reform the state's broken campaign finance regulations. However, the use of Sandusky's likeness in an attack mailer in last year's race for House District 30 prompted lawmakers to examine a system that all agree isn't working.
The Sandusky mailer was designed by and distributed by the righteous-sounding Committee to Protect Florida (CPF). From what the committee is protecting Florida is anyone's guess. What is clear is that the two lawmakers key to reforming the campaign finance system – House Speaker Will Weatherford and state Sen. Jack Latvala -- are less than six degrees separated from the so-called Committee to Protect Florida.
Although he had absolutely nothing to do with the Sandusky mailer, Sen. Latvala's Committee of Continuous Existence (CCE) was the second largest donor to the Committee to Protect Florida, according to ContributionLink. No one, of course, is saying Latvala knew anything about the Sandusky mailer, but he certainly knew of what those who designed the mailer were capable.
Committees of Continuous Existence may contribute to political candidates, political committees or political parties but cannot make independent expenditures.
As for Weatherford, the white knight of the Florida House, the closest he has come to smudging his record is by indirectly funding the Sandusky mailer by having his Committee of Continuous Existence transfer money to the Committee to Protect Florida.
All of this sounds confusing, because it is. And it was designed that way -- not all at once, but after years of previous attempts to "reform" the system. What candidates and voters are left with, however, is a dog's breakfast of outdated, circuitous rules and regulations that, on their best day, more closely resemble legalized money laundering.
To clean out the campaign finance system, Latvala and Weatherford are both shepherding different bills that would do away with the Committees of Continuous Existence blamed for dirtying up the place.
However, it's Latvala, not Weatherford, who knows better on campaign finance reform and it’s the senator's legislation that should be made law.
It's important to understand the different perspectives from which Latvala and Weatherford come. Weatherford is like the quarterback at football practice. He's never been touched. Meaning he's never in his political career had to run a competitive campaign to win election.
Latvala, however, is one of the two or three most seasoned political consultants in Florida. Weatherford can maybe claim he's been involved in a handful of election cycles, whereas Latvala has had his hands in campaigns and elections for the better part of four decades.
It's Latvala's experience at knowing, not just where the bodies are buried, but actually knowing how to bury them, that has him proposing legislation that eliminates the Committees of Continuous Existence and improves transparency, but does not lift the cap on contribution limits, as Weatherford proposes.
What Weatherford has done is paint himself into a corner. He's saying that, yes, Committees of Continuous Existence are bad, but we're addicted to them -- to the unlimited money they can raise and to the ease of accepting contributions in big chunks rather than $500 at a time. So we need to be able to accept six-figure checks into our own accounts to break us of our addiction.
Only a pol who accepted a $250,000 contribution from a Texas homebuilder, as Weatherford did last election cycle, can suggest with a straight face that lifting the cap on campaign donations is how to best fix a system awash in nearly unregulated cash.
Better to go with Latvala's proposal to do away with the Committees of Continuous Existence and institute real-time reporting and then see what needs to be done further.
After all, who better to judge the taste of the hens than the fox himself?
Peter Schorsch, a political consultant based in St. Petersburg, publishes and edits the Florida political blog SaintPetersBlog.com. Readers can contact Schorsch at email@example.com. Disclosure: Extensive Enterprises, the author’s company, has done political consulting work, directly and/or indirectly, for committees linked to both Jack Latvala and Will Weatherford.
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