Override urged for leadership fundsby John Kennedy | March 18th, 2011
A House committee Friday urged lawmakers to override former Gov. Charlie Crist’s veto last year of legislation that would revive so-called leadership funds, strengthening the hand of House and Senate leaders from both parties in raising campaign cash.
The 11-4 vote by the State Affairs Committee broke on party lines, with Democrats opposed. Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, were powerful advocates for the fund-raising accounts last year, but were snubbed by Crist.
The governor’s veto may have marked the beginning of his crumbling relationship with fellow Republicans, which concluded with him breaking with the party in April.
But Rep. Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland, said the legislation is needed to improve “transparency.”
“I think the bill is long overdue in our fund-raising process,” said McKeel.
Republican leaders pushed the legislation last spring amid a fund-raising scandal at the state Republican Party.
Former GOP Chairman Jim Greer, who had been ousted only a few months earlier, was accused of badly damaging the party’s finances with his freewheeling spending and side dealing, which included allegedly secretly earmarking a portion of party funds for himself.
Leadership funds were banned 20 years ago by Florida lawmakers following newspaper reports drawing links between legislation approved and cash flowing into accounts controlled by party leaders.
The new proposal would allow legislative leaders from both parties to continue raising unlimited amounts of campaign cash. But instead of pouring the funds into the state party, they would maintain control.
Supporters, though, said the new step will result in more disclosure, because the leadership funds would be subject to campaign reporting requirements.
Ben Wilcox, of the League of Women Voters, disagreed. He testified Friday that reinstating the funds would feed a “pay to play,” environment in the Legislature.
No longer called leadership funds, the accounts would be dubbed “affiliated party committees,” under the measure (CS/HB 1207).
Two-thirds approval in the House and Senate is needed to override a governor’s veto. Lawmakers already held a veto override session last fall, to reinstate seven bills and a spending provision killed by the former governor.
But this week, Haridopolos and Cannon sent memos to fellow lawmakers noting more than a dozen bills and budget vetoes could still be considered for override.
The House committee Friday also unanimously advanced another vetoed bill, HB 7103, which would have prevented counties from imposing some local fees on farm land.
It also requires developers to sign a form acknowledging they were aware of building next to an existing farm, intended to blunt future lawsuits stemming from agricultural smells or sounds.
The State Affairs Committee was the first panel to respond to the leaders’ memos, recommending to Cannon that overrides be attempted on the two bills.