In the upcoming election, it’s hard to tell the players without a program.
That can be especially problematic when you can’t get your hands on a program.
Florida’s Legislature passed a new version of campaign communication law in March and Gov. Charlie Crist signed it soon after.
It represented the latest incarnation in what has been an evolving area of the law. In spite of, or perhaps because of, attempts to tweak campaign rules, it can still be difficult to fathom exactly who is paying for the messages inundating the airwaves in the weeks before an election.
According to Dave Carpenter, qualifying officer for the Collier County Supervisor of Elections, election communication organizations were first defined in Florida law in 2006.
The concept was modified for the 2008 elections. Major portions were found to be unconstitutional by a federal district court in 2009, leading the Legislature to take another stab at it, passing the current regulations in 2010.
They represent an attempt to craft some type of reporting mechanism for groups engaging in political speech without limiting their right to free speech when they are not directly advocating the election or defeat of a candidate, Carpenter said.
The electioneering communication the law takes aim at comes in the form of ads — mostly negative ads — on radio and television. The groups sponsoring them tend to have noble-sounding names like Voters for Truth, Justice and the American Way or, The Motherhood and Apple Pie Coalition. But finding out who funds them has been a challenge.
As a result of the fluctuating state of the campaign communication law, it was only in July of this year that the Florida Division of Elections managed to publish its handbook outlining the latest changes.
Groups advocating for or against an issue are basically unrestricted under the latest version of the law. For instance, people against Amendment 4, which would change the way counties approve growth, can pour limitless money into ads and never divulge where the money came from.
Groups advocating for or against a candidate can do pretty much the same thing until 30 days before a primary election or 60 days before a general election, at which point they have to file financial disclosures with the state.
The caveat is that the ads can’t say “vote for” or “vote against” a particular candidate. That’s why you see ads along the lines of, “Candidate X, he’s a dishonest scum bag.” It doesn’t say you should not vote for Candidate X or that you should vote for his opponent, Candidate Y, but the point is made.
The first reporting deadline for the 30-day primary window was July 23.
The next one is Aug. 6.
Two of the most active electioneering communication groups in the primary thus far have been Let’s Get to Work, funded by Rick Scott to take on Bill McCollum, his opponent for the Republican nomination for governor, and the Florida First Initiative, which endorses McCollum.
As of Friday, Let’s Get to Work had filed its disclosure with the Florida Division of Elections. The Florida First disclosure had not yet been posted.
Let’s Get to Work raised just over $8 million by the time of its first report, almost all of it from a Scott family trust fund. It spent about $5 million of that.
Florida First, while not listed on the state web site, has posted its contributions and expenditures on its own web site, http://www.floridafirstinitiative.org.
It lists about $1.5 million in contributions and just under that in expenditures. Major contributors to Florida First include the Chamber of Commerce of the U.S.A. ($500,000), Progress Energy Service Co. ($100,000) and the Freedom First Committee ($190,000).
The Freedom First Committee is associated with Republican state Sen. Mike Haridopolos of Melbourne. It, in turn, has been supported by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida ($100,000), The Petway Cos., Inc. ($100,000) and U.S. Sugar Corp. ($60,000).
It also draws support from, and gives money to, other political committees.
See what I mean about players and a program?
Connect with Brent Batten at naplesnews.com/staff/brent_batten