The ethics and campaign finance reforms the Legislature sent Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday are not as wonderful as Senate President Don Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford portray them.
The campaign finance changes, in particular, don’t do enough to ensure that Florida voters can follow the money flowing to parties and candidates. Overall, though, Senate Bill 2 on ethics and House Bill 569 on campaign finance represent progress, and Gov. Scott should sign them. Florida being Florida, of course, even ethics bills get caught up in power plays.
The campaign finance bill raises contribution limits to $3,000 from $500 for statewide races and to $1,000 from $500 for legislative and local races. Gov. Scott sees no reason to do that. He wouldn’t. He spent $73 million of his own money to get elected. Presumably, he’s ready to tap his own bank account again in 2014, and the increase would help his potential opponents raise more money.
The campaign finance bill, a priority for Rep. Weatherford, has other problems. Although it ends so-called Committees of Continuous Existence — which basically are legislative slush funds — it empowers similar fund-raising entities. And while its best feature is to require more and quicker online disclosure of political contributions, it nullifies too much of the benefit by preserving loopholes that parties will exploit.
The ethics bill, a priority for Sen. Gaetz, is a better effort. It gives the Florida Commission on Ethics more power, including new tools to make elected officials pay fines that have gone uncollected. Importantly, the bill also allows the commission to investigate cases referred to it by the governor, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and state and federal prosecutors.
The ethics measure also bans legislators from lobbying the Legislature or state government agencies immediately after leaving office. The two-year ban has applied only to lobbying the Legislature. The new measure requires more thorough disclosure of potential conflicts of interest and will put more financial disclosure information online.
The ethics and campaign finance reforms could have been better. Legislators could have granted the ethics commission power to initiate its own investigations. Parties could have been required to disclose all contributions immediately. Those are flaws to fix next year, not reasons to veto the bills.
Because the Legislature sent the bills to Gov. Scott during the session, he will have to act on them within a week. The not-so-subtle timing is a message from legislative leaders that the governor’s priorities — an across-the-board $2,500 raise for teachers and a tax break for manufacturers — will go down if he vetoes these bills. Signing them, on the other hand, could get the stalled tax breaks moving and shift legislators off their plan to tie the raises to evaluations.
Politics by quid-pro-quo isn’t the purest way to enact ethics and campaign finance reforms. But it’s an improvement on political swaps that so often have paid off only for special interests.
Jac Wilder VerSteeg
for The Post Editorial Board