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Proposal to limit outside money in St. Pete elections moves to committee

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A split St. Petersburg City Council voted Thursday to send a proposal that would limit political action committees’ involvement in municipal election to a committee for discussion.

If the idea passes the committee, it would come back to the Council.

The proposal, which is the brainchild of Councilmember Darden Rice, is aimed at “super PACs,” political action committees that are allowed to raise an unlimited amount of money from corporations, unions, individuals and associations to influence the outcome of elections.

Rice seeks to do two things by passing an ordinance: Cap donations made by corporations and other wealthy contributors to PACS and require corporations that donate to the PACs to certify that they are not foreign companies. The ordinance would apply only to St. Petersburg city elections.

The idea was popular among most of the city residents who came out to urge council members to eventually adopt an ordinance limiting the donations. David McKalip was a vocal opponent, accusing Rice of being a hypocrite because she took money from PACs when she ran for office.

Rice agreed that she took money from political action committees, but did not take funds from super PACs. The fact that she raised more than $100,000 when donations were capped at $500 is an indication, she said, that candidates can successfully fundraise and run without big money behind them.

Although a majority of the council sent the item to a committee, it’s unclear how much support it will get once there.

Ed Montanari, the lone vote against moving the item to committee, said he is skeptical because of the possibility of a lawsuit if the ordinance is eventually passed.

“This looks to me to be a test case,” Montanari said.

Jim Kennedy was also skeptical. Although he voted to move the item to committee, Kennedy said he would have questions about ways to protect the city from the liability of attorney’s fees should someone sue and win.

Karl Nurse had another perspective, saying, “If this be a test case, I’d be honored to be part of that.”

Nurse said there are multiple examples in Florida of the problems caused by corporate money influencing elected officials. One example, he said, is the Everglades. The Everglades doesn’t get cleaned up, he said, because Big Sugar contributes so much money to legislators.

“I look forward to this conversation because there are big stakes here,” Nurse said.

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