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David Straz speaks to reporters after making the runoff, barely.

Tampa Bay

David Straz proposes ethics reform to limit ‘special interest’ money in city politics

“It is a conflict for politicians to receive huge political contributions and then award contracts.”

If elected Mayor, David Straz would implement measures to restrict campaign contributions from deep-pocketed special interests made to candidates for city offices.

Straz announced his ethics plan Thursday, one day after launching a television ad attacking his opponent, Jane Castor, for accepting hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from developers, lobbyists and other special interest groups or companies.

“As a private citizen, I believe it is a conflict for politicians to receive huge political contributions and then award contracts,” Straz said. “These reforms mean that big money contributors to a mayoral candidate can’t do business with the city for two years.”

Under his plan, the city would be banned from awarding contracts to any company whose owner, managers, employees or their spouse or family members contribute more than $2,500 combined.

Such a policy might work to discourage high-dollar contributions to candidates’ political committees, but including company employees and their families in that could be problematic. It’s likely to raise big government watchdog eyebrows as an effort to use public policy to force private company policies. For example, if a company that wants to seek city contracts they might be forced to implement a companywide policy blocking employees from donating to political campaigns.

Straz’s plan would also implement what he describes as “scored blind contracting” that would require city leaders to award contracts based only on a score of qualifications, costs and other relevant information. The bidding company would not be named.

It’s not clear how Straz would implement this. Based on his announcement, bidders would not be able to pitch their projects to the city in person, which they do now.

Straz would also prohibit gifts from groups or companies the city might do business with. The city already bans its employees from taking gifts worth more than $100.

“I served on the Florida Transportation Commission after being appointed by Gov. Jeb Bush and retained by Gov. Charlie Crist. I never accepted as much as a cup of coffee from a lobbyist, road builder or special interest. That policy will continue when I’m mayor,” Straz said.

“The public should have confidence knowing that their mayor won’t take a wrecking ball to the city once elected to settle up with the big money donors who funded their campaign,” Straz said. “This will restore confidence in city contracting and protecting the citizens from inside dealing where the beneficiary is the good old boy network.”

Straz called on Castor to support his plan. 

“We imagine most of our community would like to see an end to uber-wealthy people trying to buy elections,” said Castor campaign consultant Adam Smith. “By Election Day, David Straz will have spent nearly $5 million on a negative campaign that has focused solely on tearing down Jane Castor with false attacks. He has yet to share his vision or any plan for how he will address issues of importance to our citizens.

“While I am pleased to see that he, at long last, has taken time to focus on a policy, it is perplexing that the focus is on campaign finance reform.

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a die-hard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and contentious issues surrounding transit. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also a devoted wife and mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder.

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