Bye-Bye, Big Bird. Hello, John Doe.
As if filing campaign finance reports wasn’t dry enough already, the Florida Department of State has erased a little humor from the now-monthly practice.
In an updated candidate and campaign-finance handbook that went online this week, the department’s Division of Elections has scrapped tongue-in-cheek examples like “Tweet T. Bird for public defender” sponsored by “Birds of a Feather Political Committee,” in favor of John and Jane Doe.
DOS spokeswoman Brittany Lesser said the changes are intended to “streamline” the handbooks and provide consistency. The new handbook went online Monday afternoon, just hours after The News Service of Florida asked about the sardonic names, but has been in the works for at least 10 days, according to a document provided by Lesser.
Among the samples ditched by the department: an image of a baby wearing a onesie stamped with “Vote S. Mell” on its rear. The infant now supports “J. Doe.”
The department’s use of satirical names mirrored the often creative handles dreamed up by political consultants who frequently bestow benign-sounding labels on committees engaged in the nastiest of campaigns, or whose acronyms elicit a chuckle from those in the know. For example, the now-defunct “People for Integrity in Government,” or “PIG,” and an affiliated committee, “Floridians for Integrity in Government,” or “FIG,” were behind a series of brutal attacks against former state Rep. Paige Kreegel, who sued for libel over the advertisements. The Punta Gorda Republican lost the case.
The state may have opted for a more staid approach after campaign finance laws changed this year —- including the elimination of “committees of continuous existence,” or CCEs —- which went into effect on Oct. 1. But those behind some of the committees are thus far sticking with the tried-and-true.
Some offer a light-hearted spin on the occupations of the groups affiliated with the committees, such as “Florida Fire Spigot PC,” backed by the Palm Beach County firefighters and paramedics; “Florida COW PAC,” the Florida Cattlemen’s Association political committee; or the Florida Society of Dermatology and Dermatological Surgery’s “PAC-Y-DERM.”
Others, like the Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart law firm’s “Get Unified Now PAC,” is a play on words on the group’s own name.
“People United for Medical Marijuana,” or “PUFMM,” the group trying to get a medical marijuana citizens initiative on the 2014 ballot, falls somewhere in between.
Many of the committee names clearly reflect the industries or trade organizations behind them.
But an equal if not greater number divulge little, if anything, about the organization’s purpose or stands on issues or candidates.
Take, for example, “Truth is the Daughter of Time,” “Citizens for a Reality Check,” “Creating Possibilities,” or the “Committee Without an Agenda.”
A perusal of the 911 active committees registered with the Division of Elections reveals some common themes such as strength, integrity and responsibility.
Floridians are apparently also “for” a variety of good-sounding things, including a better tomorrow, common sense and prosperity and economic liberty.
The more obscure names are frequently bequeathed to sometimes shadowy committees that serve as repositories for funds that are later distributed to other committees to be spent on negative campaigns.
“The idea always was it made it harder for the average voter to figure out who might be funding that mail piece or that television ad,” said veteran political consultant Wayne Bertsch, who once helped dream up some of the now-defunct, more entertaining committees.