Monday, February 24, 2014

The Horrendous State of Campaign Finance in Florida … by gimletye

Recently G.O.D. had a colonoscopy. On the same day, I spent a few hours online with the State of Florida's Division of Elections database researching political committees and contributions. I don't know which of us had the worse end of it.

Democracy is supposed to be transparent. In the "Sunshine". But the nuclear arms race in raising campaign money has distorted government-in-the-sunshine to something simply unrecognizable.

Piecing together who and what entities are giving to which campaigns, candidates and/or issues requires forensic auditors paired with a journalists. Very, very few newspapers go there anymore. It is laborious and time consuming work. The regulations governing which type of political committees is giving to which type of activity are simply overwhelming. Big Donors, with advisors who know how to shuffle money like hustlers at a game of three card monte, know that the wheels have blown off campaign finance regulation.


Pinched by internet sources of news (blogs!), declining readership, and scared publishers, investigative journalists are engaged in acts of triage when it comes to reporting the destroyed state of campaign finance regulation.

While there are some foundations that provide the public with software and investigative reports to analyze campaign contributions, they stay to national races. They never penetrate to the local level where, as we report, so much bad activities take place.

That's sad because the action is now, clearly, in the states. Why? Because the money arms race is so egregious that mutually assured destruction -- another term from the nuclear age -- has paralyzed Congress.

The New York Times recently touched on this area in "A National Strategy Funds State Political Monopolies" (Jan 11, 2014).
Not unlike a political version of Cayman Islands banks, the networks allow political strategists to sidestep regulations and obscure the source of funds. Campaign contributions that would be banned or restricted in one state can be sent to a state where the rules allow money to flow more freely, often scrubbed of the identity of the original donor. Some groups work behind the scenes to orchestrate “money bombs” of smaller contributions from hundreds of different donors, allowing the groups to provide candidates with large doses of cash — fingerprint-free — even in states with low contribution limits.
It's not issues that are dividing the parties: it is the pandering to deep, dark sources of money that is overwhelming any possibility of dialogue or compromise.

I've posted pdf files from four reports I downloaded. The committee names are of interest because they have popped up on our radars. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that there is something really wrong with our state.

If you care to give it a spin, here is the state's campaign finance database. Although it is easy enough to use, it could be much more user-friendly; if by user-friendly the purpose is penetrating the layers of interconnected donors, campaigns, candidates and issues.

For example, a smart database would be able to provide committee related documents (like who are the "names" on registered PAC's, or ECO's, or CCE's) once you have queried the database on contributions. But this database is dumb one suspects, by design: it requires the researcher, once he has found a contribution of interest, to go back and manually requery for the type of document, to re-enter the committee name, date range and so forth. I found several instances where documents that should have been filed, can't be found.

If I were a betting person -- and in this case, I am -- I would say that the State of Florida doesn't really want people rummaging around data to disclose information that gets the morass of campaign data and violations in campaign reporting, into the public eye.  The state's campaign finance system makes reporting on special interests practically impossible.

Politics has always "worked" in the dark, but the public ought to have a chance, a shot, an opening to easily see how the money is moving. That's impossible to do in Florida, and that serves the special interests who control the state just fine.

So here is a little running commentary -- fast and furious -- on four committees.

The Partnership for Florida's Future deliberately echoes the name of Jeb Bush's principal charitable vehicle, The Foundation for Florida's Future. There is nothing wrong in doing so. In fact it is likely the intent of the committees organizers to highlight the fact that this is political companionship and friends who can be trusted.

This partnership raised $3.6 million, and although it is still active as an ECO, there is no data for 2013.

One of the donors to the Partnership for Florida's Future ECO is the Florida Jobs PAC, that raised $5.6 million. The Florida Jobs PAC has some of the very same donors. There are CCE's giving to ECO's and PAC's giving to everywhere.

You can imagine the phone call from the Florida Chamber of Commerce big wigs to Publix Supermarkets. "Hi Joe, I know you've given to the Chamber's political ECO, CCE and PAC, but we need you to give to Florida Jobs, and by the way US Sugar who fills the aisles of processed products sections is giving to Jobs and to Florida First. If you give to us, we can channel some of that money to Florida First so your name never has to appear. We are running that campaign to stop people from gathering signatures for petitions in your parking lots …"

Anyhow, if I were a corporate big wig I would be wincing because the entire system is nothing more than organized extortion. Big Business interests have a hammerlock on the state of Florida. What more could they possibly want? Don't they realize that the concentration of wealth and power is, finally, bad for business?

  Florida Jobs

We learned about Florida First because that was the ECO that ran a blizzard of negative ads against the record of a Lee County commissioner, who was Republican by the way, we admired. Ray Judah represented his district as a strong voice for the acquisition in 2008 of lands in sugar production owned by the US Sugar Corporation.

Florida First

In the Justice For All PAC, there are PAC's giving to PAC's. The gifting PAC's are well recognized corporate interests. One could guess that the purpose of a Justice For All PAC is to hide the identity of corporations who are mainly interested in "profits for themselves and each other". Justice For All probably waged some campaign on behalf of a candidate or an issue that confused people. 
Who could be against "Justice For All", except when you learn after the fact that it is really just a group of corporations whose idea of justice is making money with a minimum of government interference. 

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It looks like a huge scam, con game to get the wealthy to willingly give over their money in the hopes of getting the desired election outcomes. A lot of the money probably never goes in any campaign. Some of the candidates are just fronts to cover the operation. Many of them have no chance of ever winning anything. Just money changing hands. The key is if the people getting the money report It to the IRS as income.

Thank goodness in America we have one man, one vote. The billionaire and the poor person each have one vote each. We have seen time and time again on this blog candidates who have outspent their opponents by wide margins, lose their races. The money does not really produce the so-called desired results. So there is something clearly going on here, but I don't think it is elections, it is something else.