The House approved a measure Friday that would allow much larger contributions to candidates for statewide office even as Governor Rick Scott added his name to a growing list of the bill’s critics.
The proposal (HB 569) cleared the chamber on a 75-39 vote, as four Democrats broke with their party to support the GOP-backed measure. The bill would boost contribution limits, allowing each donor to give $5,000 per election to a statewide candidate and $3,000 per election to local and legislative candidates.
Currently, donors aren’t allowed to give any candidate more than $500 per election.
House Republicans say the bill will encourage contributions to flow to candidates instead of shadowy “committees of continuous existence,” which are abolished under the measure. And they dismissed Democratic complaints that the higher contributions limits and a provision to allow candidates to roll over $20,000 from one campaign cycle to the next would help incumbents.
“Rather than incumbency protection, this bill has the potential to empower challengers by making it possible for them to raise the money to challenge an incumbent,” said Rep. Travis Cummings, R-Orange Park.
But Democrats said the bill would hurt average Floridians’ ability to participate in the political process.
“The rich, the powerful and the politically connected benefit from this bill,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. “This bill doesn’t further democracy in our state.”
Senate Republicans have countered with an offer that would allow statewide candidates to raise $3,000 from each contributor while keeping the local and legislative limits at $500, and have signaled they are unlikely to back off that stance. The $20,000 roll-over, which the House lowered Friday from $50,000, is in line with the Senate proposal.
But the bill came under unexpected fire from Scott, who until now has been hesitant to speak out on bills being considered by the Legislature. On Friday, Scott spokeswoman Melissa Sellers said the governor did not back the higher contribution limits.
“Significantly increasing these limits concentrates more power to the already powerful and hurts the ability of individual citizens to be a part of the process,” Sellers said in a written statement.
Scott used $73 million from his personal fortune for the overwhelming majority of the financing for his upstart gubernatorial bid in 2010.
Told about Scott’s position by reporters, House Speaker Will Weatherford said, “that’s news to me.” Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said Scott had indicated to Weatherford that he supported the bill. And the speaker said he thought Scott would back the bill in the end.
“I think when he sees the wisdom of what we’re trying to accomplish, he’ll come around,” Weatherford said.