The maximum contribution to Florida candidates has jumped from $500 to $3000 per election for candidates in statewide elections and from $500 to $1000 per election for state legislative candidates. The new limits took effect on November 1, part of a sweeping overhaul of the state’s campaign finance and ethics laws signed into law in May.
The new law also eliminates the $500 limit on contributions to “political committees,” which are groups formed to make contributions in state elections or finance expenditures that expressly advocate the election or defeat of a candidate, or the passage or defeat of a ballot measure. Such groups may now accept unlimited donations. Political committees are likely to emerge as a potent force in statewide elections and closely fought legislative races.
While more money is expected to flow into Florida elections, reporting requirements under the new law are much more stringent. As of November 1, candidates and political committees must file monthly reports, rather than the quarterly reports required under the old law. Weekly reports are required beginning on the 60th day before a primary election up until the 10thday before the general election. Daily reports are then required up until five days before the general election.
In theory, increased reporting means increased transparency. But in practice it is also likely to mean more errors as committees struggle to capture information and report it accurately in such short reporting windows. It bears watching to see whether and how fines are assessed when committees are compelled to file amendments correcting the inevitable mistakes.
The new law presents many traps for the unwary. Indeed, Florida election officials acknowledged in a suit decided over the summer that the state’s campaign finance laws are complex, “and that state officials newly working with the laws need months of study to become comfortable with them.” Because violators face hefty fines and criminal penalties, it is essential that anyone involved in Florida election spending – whether political committee, candidate, or contributor – be careful to comply with the law’s many requirements.