Florida could be more transparent on campaign finance, study shows

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The Sunshine State could shed a little more “sunshine” on the how political campaigns handle money, according to a new report on campaign finance.

Improving transparency is at issue in the latest of the “Tough Choices” series created by Integrity Florida and The LeRoy Collins Institute in Florida State University.

Tough Choices: Best Practices in Campaign Finance and Public Access to Information analyzed Florida’s campaign finance rules and compared to practices in the other U.S. states.

The report found the best campaign financial disclosures were in the states of Maine, Kentucky, Washington and Hawaii. Researchers used those policies as a benchmark to gauge Florida.

Comparatively, the report says Florida is on the right track, but the state needs more work to increase transparency.

“Through this research and report we hope to make Floridians aware of what state-level campaign finance information is available and how accessible it is compared to the rest of the country,” said LCI head and report co-author Dr. Carol Weissert, a political science professor at Florida State University. “Florida is dedicated to being an open-government state, and while we had success in 2013 with campaign finance reforms, there’s still work that can be done to enhance transparency.”

Beyond the campaign finance reforms passed by the Legislature in 2013, Florida still lags behind many other states, according to researchers at the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

After examining NIMSP criteria, Tough Choices outlines a number of steps Florida can take to improve public access to campaign finance information:

  • Improve campaign-finance data quality and ease of public access online. Florida could offer campaign finance data in various formats, offer data visualization features and allow for social media connectivity.
  • Require independent expenditures to include the target issue or candidate in their campaign finance reports.
  • Require electioneering communications to include details about whether expenditures support or oppose a candidate or issue.

Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford responds:

“I am proud of our progress in making Florida’s campaign finance reporting system more transparent through stricter reporting requirements. We can always do more to increase transparency and accountability.”

The 2014 Tougher Choices review is available at http://fla.st/1lp3Xbj. Further details and other reports published by the LeRoy Collins Institute and Integrity Florida are at www.collinsinstitute.fsu.edu.


Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.