The ‘anti-John Morgan bill’: Change to bill could limit donations to petition-gathering campaigns

petition gatherer
Substitute language turns bill into significant limit on donations to citizen initiatives.

One lobbyist is calling it the ‘anti-John Morgan bill.’

Originally a bill prohibiting donations of giving campaign surplus to a nonprofit where a candidate works, HB 699 now includes substitute language filed late Thursday would significantly change the scope to limit financing for petition-gathering campaigns.

If HB 699 becomes law, it would create another significant barrier to Florida’s citizen initiative process.

The bill as it reads under new language would place a $3,000 contribution limit from a person or political committee to the group sponsoring a citizen initiative to change Florida’s Constitution.

There’s no limit on donations to such committees now, and other than for committees backing signature-gathering efforts, the bill doesn’t propose one.

The limit only applies until the Secretary of State certifies a measure to go before voters statewide and certifies a ballot number for a proposed amendment.

The legislation could dramatically change what resources are available during the signature collection process, which has already seen significant restrictions put in place in recent years.

The new focus of the bill comes after the original House bill already received unanimous support in the House Public Integrity and Elections Committee and the State Affairs Committee. The substitute language now goes back in front of the PIE Committee on Monday, making a rare stop in the same committee twice.

The change brings it from a two-page bill that would have added two lines to state statute 106.141 to a three-page bill touching on different part of election statute, 106.08. While the restrictions on candidates giving surplus funds to charity where they work remains in the bill, the new language for the first time introduces impacts for committees sponsoring constitutional amendments. It imposes the same $3,000 limit on campaign contributions that govern donations to candidates for statewide office and Supreme Court justices seeking retention.

Rep. Bobby Payne, the bill’s sponsor, reached on a weekend hunting trip suggested changes in the language of the bill may address issues raised in the Senate.

The original legislation had no companion bill in the upper chamber.

But Sen. Ray Rodrigues, an Estero Republican, did file a bill this session proposing $1,000 limits, the same cap lawmakers face with contributions to their campaigns, on donations to committees behind initiatives. Rodrigues said he will amend his bill to allow the $3,000 limit, and the bills will become companions. Rodrigues said he was initially under the impression his bill would not move this year because it lacked a House companion, but he was brought together with Payne, and the two decided to bring their legislation together.

Like the substitute language for Payne’s bill, the limits would last only until the Secretary of State certified a measure for the ballot.

Rodrigues’ bill will be heard Tuesday by the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee.

“If you go back and look at citizen initiative and referendums going back to when the constitution was amended in 1968, this was supposed to be a process for citizens to directly impact the legislative process. Anything that rises to the level of an amendment should have broad support from citizens across the state,” he said. “As things have evolved, one out-of-state billionaire can step up write a check to a committee and fund the process to put an initiative on the ballot.”

House Speaker Chris Sprowls in a media availability Friday did briefly address the fact a bill was returning to the PIE Committee for a second look, though the substance of changes were not addressed at all.

“If I remember correctly, there wasn’t a Senate companion to that bill, so there might be some desire to look at connecting it to bills that are moving in the Senate,” Sprowls said.

That aligns with Rodrigues’ account, except the fact Rodrigues’ bill had yet to be heard by any committee, and the Senator said he believed the issue probably was dead this year until conversations started with the House.

The Legislature in recent years imposed a variety of restrictions on the citizen initiative process to limit paid signature gatherings and shorten the time for gathering signatures.

This change comes after single donors became the driving force behind successful amendment campaigns for a minimum wage increase and the legalization of medical marijuana, in both those cases Orlando attorney John Morgan.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


  • Larry Gillis, Libertarian

    March 28, 2021 at 10:37 am

    Money is speech: Koch, Bloomberg, Morgan, Soros, and even Larry Gillis. Miss my Birkenstocks.

    Larry Gillis, Cape Coral

  • James Robert Miles

    March 29, 2021 at 8:44 am

    As in citizens united, corporations can buy elections but citizens can only contribute up to a certain amount to change the Florida Constitution! Capitalism on steroids but socialism is the real threat!

  • EKK

    March 29, 2021 at 1:03 pm

    The war on ballot initiatives continues even though voters keep letting them know this is not what they want. Floridians want to be able to vote on ballot initiative questions. Why is leadership so afraid of the will of the voters?

Comments are closed.


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