The House has voted to limit donations around ballot initiatives, including banning foreign contributions.
Federal law already prohibits donations from foreigners and foreign entities to elections. However, a decision the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) issued in November opened the door to foreign donations for state ballot initiatives.
The bill (HB 921), passed 77-39 on Wednesday, would ban contributions from foreign governments, foreign political parties, foreign businesses and foreign citizens, as well as people who aren’t U.S. citizens and who aren’t granted permanent residence. That doesn’t include dual citizens.
That provision received the support of Democrats. But many in the minority party opposed the restrictions on out-of-state entities within the bill, filed by Eucheeanna Republican Rep. Brad Drake.
The bill would limit non-Floridians from donating more than $3,000 and out-of-state political committees from receiving donations worth more than $3,000 when it comes to ballot initiatives in the petition-gathering process. That’s a change to the $3,000 limit lawmakers passed last year. Republicans say that move aimed to lessen the influence of out-of-state interests on amendments to Florida’s Constitution.
“People that do not choose to live here, if they want to come live here and be a part of this great state, they have every opportunity to come here,” Drake said. “When they become Floridians, they have a seat at the table.”
Democrats frame limits to ballot initiatives as attempts to curb measures opposed by Republican lawmakers. Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis called it part of a 15-year incremental attack on ballot initiatives.
“These changes are simply here and being put in place to make it impossible for citizens to pass their initiatives,” Davis said.
The out-of-state limits only apply to donations to initiative sponsors, not opponents. Drake says that’s because you can’t oppose an initiative that isn’t an initiative yet.
Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani told members she would have considered the provisions if it had applied to sponsors and opponents.
“That definitely seems like you’re opening up the door for one side to have an advantage over the other in citizen ballot initiatives,” Eskamani said.
Only Miami Beach Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco crossed party lines one the vote. The Senate is expected to consider and possibly pass the bill Thursday.
In a nod to current events, Drake told members before the vote that the bill would prevent people in Russia and China from influencing Florida law.
“If you push the green button, you’re telling Vladimir Putin to stay out of our elections here in the state of Florida,” Drake said. “If you push that red button, you’re affirming, through that vote, that it’s OK for Vladimir Putin to give money to your campaign or to any campaign in the state of Florida. It’s your choice.”