Saturday, September 24, 2016

In Florida, The Sham of Campaign Finance Limits ... by gimleteye

Here is an exercise that will have you weeping for our democracy. Spend time on the database on the Florida Division of Elections website, to decode how candidates and campaigns mesh through a) direct political contributions and b) the impenetrable morass of political action committees.

This bifurcated realm of political money proposes contribution limits on one and no limits on the other. The bottom line: in Florida today there are no campaign limits except what large corporations and big political donors decide to spend. The net result isn't fair. It is a nightmare.

The state election website tracks candidates and their individual campaign accounts. State election law requires a firewall to separate candidates from political action committees that serve their interests.

Each is required to meet baseline reporting requirements. The data discloses a system that functions according to rule of law, but that isn't the real take-away. Ours is a campaign finance system that fundamentally harms taxpayers and businesses that create jobs and pay taxes.

A cursory review of the Florida elections database shows alarming potential for abuse. Here is just one of many examples.

The Voice Of Florida Business PAC is chaired by Tom Feeney, President and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida, former Congressman and Jeb Bush ally. The company website lists 20 consultants in its lobbying team.

Voices of Florida Business PAC has raised $5.2 million since 2013. There are no limits on the size of contribution. Its donors are a who's who of Florida's most highly regulated industries.

Electric utilities, healthcare, real estate, and Big Sugar feature prominently as donors. But the PAC also receives six figure contributions from other PACs and it receives contributions from the same entities it gives money to. For example, The Voice Of Florida Business PAC receives contributions from Floridians United For Our Children's Future but also contributes to Floridians United For Our Children's Future. Why is one PAC acting as a clearinghouse for another PAC? It is a legal form of money laundering.

Who benefits from its advertisements on television or mailers in super-sized postcard form? That information is not required by law. Had enough? There's more.

Tom Feeney's Associated Industries of Florida has a PAC under its own name. Since 2013, it has raised $2.3 million. Its major contributors? The same corporations -- prominently featuring Big Sugar and Florida Power and Light -- who contribute to The Voice of Florida Business. And oh, The Voice of Florida Business contributes to the Associated Industries of Florida PAC.

This legal money laundering, in plain view on the state of Florida elections database, offers a glimpse of a political cartel that controls the state legislature. But what about contributors? What is in it, for them?

First, corporations and individuals protect their interests by giving candidates maximum contributions allowable by law. Fair enough. When like-minded corporations put their stamp of approval on a candidate, contributing to the maximum limit, it sends a very clear message.

At the same time, when corporations legally spend unlimited amounts of money to advance their causes, benefiting their chosen candidates for public office, they engage in a pretense of separating their direct contributions from their candidates' campaigns.

The legal line separating contributions to campaigns, to PACs, to industry trade associations, and corporations is meaningless. It is a rigged game. The individual campaign contributor is not just at a disadvantage, he or she has disappeared altogether unless they rematerialize as a wealthy, politically involved corporation or a PAC. Corporations are more powerful than people, and certainly more powerful than the unions who they vilify.

Lobbyists, industry insiders, and corporations are likely to shrug: "What's the big deal?" That is how insiders in Wisconsin reacted when  
the UK Guardian recently exposed ties tangling Gov. Scott Walker and independent expenditure committees.
: "Known as the “John Doe investigation”, several Wisconsin prosecutors launched a probe into what they suspected were criminal campaign finance violations by the campaign committee of Walker, a former Republican presidential candidate who dropped out early in the primary race. The prosecutors claimed Walker’s committee operated a coordinated network that involved outside lobby groups, thereby allowing unlimited amounts of corporate money to funnel into a third-party group closely aligned with his campaign. In July 2015, the Wisconsin supreme court halted the investigation."

The same conveyor belt occurs in Florida. The big deal: what comes out of this rigged game is not a democracy. It is much, much closer to an oligarchy.

The way money now filters into politics through unlimited contributions to PACs results in a carefully orchestrated "order"; a pyramid that guarantees at the top, the most highly regulated industries, top shareholders and their captains. In this system, the judiciary also follows the money; the reason the judiciary dismissed the complaints against Gov. Walker in Wisconsin.

If you are a dues-paying member of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida or, otherwise, a small business person, your chance of influencing the political process through memberships in trade councils or associations is zilch. Zero. Nada.

If you are an incumbent legislator, you fit on the squad until you are term-limited out. Play your position well, and there's a place outside of government waiting. If you can't be a Tom Feeney, the place to be is a political consultant or strategically placed lobbyist, populating the hallways in the state legislature in Tallahassee, helping to keep the system intact.

How cool would it be, though, if Democrats and Republican leaders broadly agreed 1) that the money spent on political campaigns has grown out of control, damaging all involved, and 2) that we really ought to return democracy to its appropriate place by fixing a badly broken campaign finance system.

On the one hand, hell would freeze over first. On the other, you can't dig out of a hole by digging the hole deeper, unless the point of politics is to dig the hole so deep so that no one can escapes except by private or chartered corporate jet.


Geniusofdespair said...

Very interesting if you looked up all the phoney PAC's it would even be better.

Gayle Ryan said...

shared on Facebook

Sandy Oestreich said...

Great to see Gimlette Eye published again here! Love it!

Thanks for your unique fact-checking, investigative focus. Miamians and Floridians SO need that.

Talk about secret$$--candidate Rubio's illegal use of Florida's credit card, etc. Rubio's in Charge. Florida ladies, watch how Rubio Decides FOR the majority. HE KNOWS WHAT'S Best for YOU: SURE, he Does.