Florida Governor Rick Scott signed two bills yesterday that make sweeping changes in the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws. The campaign finance bill eliminates controversial accounts that some alleged were used by candidates as political slush funds, expands gift restrictions on state vendors, and gives expanded investigative powers to the state ethics commission. The changes will take effect on November 1, 2013. Highlights of the campaign finance bill include:

  • Contribution Limits to Candidates Increase. The new law boosts contribution limits from $500 per candidate per election to $3,000 per candidate per election for statewide candidates (e.g., Governor, Attorney General, and Supreme Court Justice) and $1,000 per candidate per election to legislative and local candidates.
  • Eliminates Committees of Continuous Existence (CCE). Florida officeholders will no longer be able to raise unlimited sums through controversial accounts known as Committees of Continuous Existence, or CCE’s. By September 30, 2013, each CCE must spend all of its remaining funds and have a zero balance, at which time they will be decertified.
  • Authorizing Limit-Free Super PACs. Just last month, the Division of Elections issued an opinion concluding that contributions to independent-expenditure only committees(Super PACs) were limited to $500. This legislation would bring Florida law in line with much of the rest of the country and eliminate the $500 contribution limit to Super PACs.
  • Additional Reporting Requirements. The law imposes new disclosure requirements on candidates and electioneering communication organizations, which will have to file monthly disclosure reports until 60 days before a primary. After that, committees will be required to file weekly disclosure reports until the last 10 days before the general election when reports must be filed every 24 hours. The state political parties are not subject to these enhanced reporting requirements and will continue to file disclosure reports in an election year just four times before the general election.
  • Public Records System.The Division of Elections must prepare recommendations to the legislature by December 1, 2013, on how to create a mandatory statewide electronic filing system for all state and local campaign filings.

The ethics bill expands the existing gift ban to vendors doing business with certain public officials and procurement employees, and gives the Florida Commission on Ethics more power to investigate and levy fines against lobbyists and principals. These provisions could well lead to stepped up enforcement. Highlights of the ethics legislation include:

  • Gift ban. Effective immediately, vendors are barred from giving gifts of over $100 to certain public officials and procurement employees. This will include any executive or
    legislative branch employee who has participated in a procurement matter in the preceding 12 months, if the contract is worth more than $10,000.
  • Increased Fines. Executive branch lobbyists and principals may be fined up to $5,000 if they knowingly fail to disclose material facts or knowingly provide false information. 
  • Increase Investigatory Authority.The legislation gives new authority to the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate whether a lobbyist has made a prohibited expenditure, and to investigate lobbyists and their principals based on sworn complaints or random audits. The Commission was previously authorized to investigate sworn complaints alleging violations of Florida ethics laws, but the new law now allows the Commission to receive and investigate complaints from other sources. Members of the public may now file complaints with the Governor, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, a Florida state attorney, or a United States attorney, and these entities can refer such complaints to the Commission.