After hearing from legal experts, St. Petersburg council members agreed to a future discussion about a proposal that would limit donations from so-called super PACs in city elections.
Most council members support the idea. But, they were all cautious about the possible financial liability that could hit the city if the proposed ordinance was overturned in court.
“Intellectually, I’m there,” Amy Foster said. “Certainly, I’m concerned about risk.”
Charles Gerdes was equally cautious, saying, “I need some time to talk to my constituents about the boldness … the leadership, (telling residents) ‘Your tax dollars are going to our legal team rather than our sewers.”
Karl Nurse said he was reminded of the saying that “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
“I would rather not do nothing, so that is where I start,” Nurse said.
Ed Montanari was the lone voice against the idea. The discussion, he said, has taken up too much time and attention from other important issues, he said.
Some of the fears of the expense of litigation were blunted by a promise that outside attorneys representing various public interest groups have agreed to represent the city pro bono should passage of the proposal spark a lawsuit.
And council member Darden Rice, who proposed the ordinance, said a fundraising organization, “I Stand with St. Pete,” would be formed to collect money that could be used to pay opponents’ legal fees should the city lose any lawsuit.
The proposal is directed at “super PACs,” political action committees allowed to raise an unlimited amount of money from corporations, unions, individuals, and associations to influence the outcome of elections.
Six of the 12 federal judicial circuits in the U.S. have allowed them to stand and declared laws against them unenforceable.
St. Petersburg’s proposed rule would cap donations that super PACs make to campaigns. It would also require super PACs to ensure they use no foreign money. The idea is to protect St. Pete elections from the impact of big, outside money. The ordinance would apply only to St. Petersburg elections.
The proposal will come back before the council’s committee of the whole for a discussion. That will likely happen after the first of the year.