Darden Rice — fundraising record-holder in her bid for St. Petersburg City Council – wants to limit campaign donations.
Under new laws enacted late last year, individuals and business can give up to $1,000 for city council or mayoral campaigns. Rice, who raised an unprecedented $118,000 for her successful District 4 run in November, is asking the city to consider dropping donation limits in municipal campaigns to $500 each — the same amounts that were in place during her campaign. She plans to bring up her proposal at the June 5 City Council meeting.
“I’m concerned that letting more money flood elections is only going to drown out the voice of ordinary citizens,” Rice told Christopher O’Donnell of the Tampa Tribune. “Raising limits discourages contributions from ordinary voters.”
Dan Krassner disagrees; his argument is that there should be fewer limits on campaign contributions.
Krassner, the executive director of government watchdog group Integrity Florida, says the problem with campaign financing is not necessarily with the amounts given to candidates but by a lack of transparency in the fundraising process.
“With the increased limits,” Krassner said in a statement, “more candidates should be able to fund their campaigns directly without having to funnel so much money through special interest committees and political parties.
“The public will benefit from increased transparency.”
Krassner was speaking in May 2013, after Gov. Rick Scott signed Senate Bill 2, a comprehensive ethics bill and measure raising campaign contribution limits, which boosted the amount donors can give legislative and local races to $1,000, and up to $3,000 for statewide races.
While campaigns get bigger checks, they also have to file fundraising reports more frequently — the bill requires monthly reporting, as opposed to quarterly filing.
In addition, the law gives the Florida Commission on Ethics more power to collect fines from officials. Among the tools at its disposal is an ability to garnish wages and a longer time to collect fines – now at 20 years following an offense, up from the old rule of four years.
“Passing stronger ethics laws is a good way to improve Florida’s reputation,” Krassner said. “The lead ethics enforcement agency will finally gain new tools to address public corruption in all aspects of government.
“Floridians will have easier access to financial disclosure reports from our officials so we can hold them accountable for potential conflicts of interest,” he added.
Controversy on campaign donation limits has intensified since the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court Citizens United decision that struck down constraints on amounts corporations and unions can donate in opposition to candidates or ballot referendums.
Rice’s proposal for campaign contribution limits may be attacking a “problem” from the wrong angle. Increased transparency — through frequent report filings, additional online disclosure and stronger open records and open government laws — might be a better strategy to address the way campaigns are funded.