House prepped for vote to limit citizen initiative campaign donations
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Republicans say they want to weed out mega-donors. Democrats say it would kill popular ideas.

The House could soon vote to limit donations to citizen initiatives. An affirmative vote would send the measure to the Governor’s desk.

The measure (SB 1890) would cap donations to political committees backing proposed constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature gathering process. That’s the same restriction placed on donations to statewide candidates.

Estero Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues, who filed the bill, has said wealthy donors contributing to campaigns to amend the Florida Constitution is a new phenomenon. Palatka Republican Rep. Bobby Payne, who sponsored the House version (HB 699), shared those sentiments.

“We think the ballot initiative process that originated back in 1967 should be driven by citizens of the state and not by those that have larger pocket books that can buy their way to the ballot initiative,” Payne told members on Friday.

In the past, some donors have poured millions of dollars into political committees backing ballot initiatives. Republican lawmakers and the Florida Chamber of Commerce contend the proposal is needed to stop deep-pocketed donors, including out-of-state donors, from financing ballot initiatives on policy issues that should not be in the state constitution.

At least one lobbyist has likened the measure the “anti-John Morgan bill” after the Orlando-based lawyer who has been the main driver of several successful ballot initiatives, including the recent minimum wage increase and the legalization of medical marijuana.

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.

“Once you get the ballot or the initiative that’s gone through the certification process, game on. Spend what you want,” Payne said.

Lawmakers 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. Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani said campaigns to get initiatives on the ballot have increased because of recent legislation.

The legislation could reduce the amount of resources available during the signature collection process. Opponents contend, and proponents hope, fewer initiatives will make it to the ballot stage if the bill passes.

Republican Rep. Blaise Ingoglia said the measure would ensure that more than one donor is propelling the campaign.

The citizen initiative process is one of five ways to amend the Florida Constitution. Voters must approve citizen initiatives by a 60% vote for provisions to get amended to the Constitution.

The Senate passed the measure by a 23-17 vote that broke close to party lines, with Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes the only one to break ranks by voting no.

If the legislation becomes law, it would take effect in July.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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