Gov. DeSantis signs second pass at limiting big dollar influence in ballot initiatives

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This year, lawmakers tailored the bill to non-Floridians.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed Florida’s second attempt to limit spending in the ballot initiative process after last year’s proposal met legal hurdles.

The proposal (HB 921), filed by Eucheeanna Republican Rep. Brad Drake, limits 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 provision and others will take effect July 1.

The measure comes after a federal judge ruled against the state in July regarding similar legislation, signed by DeSantis despite his acknowledgement of constitutional concerns, to limit the influence of all money in the petition-gathering process. The measure would have capped all donations, including from Floridians, to political committees backing and opposing proposed constitutional amendments at $3,000 during the signature-gathering process.

While Judge Allen Winsor in the Northern District of Florida called last year’s law a violation of the First Amendment by limiting political speech, Estero Republican Sen. Ray Rodrigues said the judge’s criticism was that the bill was too broad.

During legislative discussions, Rodrigues told Senators that the new version attempts to “thread the needle” on the right to money in politics.

However, critics say the bill still runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision protecting political contributions as free speech.

A second provision will 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.

The bill also includes additional measures, including one requested by Democrats.

That change, touted by Lighthouse Point Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer and Orlando Democratic Rep. Anna V. Eskamani, will apply the bill’s restrictions equally to committees sponsoring and opposing ballot initiatives. Initially, the bill would have only applied to committees sponsoring the initiatives.

Another change will prevent local governments from promoting local referendums even with factual information, which drew consternation from Democrats. The public could still ask for information on the referendums, but local governments and local officials could not initiate those discussions.

Under current law, local governments and officials can promote ballot measures if they stick to the facts. Republicans argue local governments have found a loophole to influence the vote.

Federal law already prohibits donations from foreigners and foreign entities to elections. However, a decision the Federal Election Commission issued in November opened the door to foreign donations for state ballot initiatives.

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 they believe should not be in the state constitution.

At least one lobbyist dubbed the 2021 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.

Lawmakers in recent years imposed a variety of restrictions on the citizen initiative process to limit paid signature gathering and shorten the time for collecting signatures. Democrats contend the costs for campaigns to get initiatives on the ballot have increased because of recent legislation.

The proposed measure could reduce the amount of resources available during the signature collection process. Opponents fear, and proponents hope, that fewer initiatives will make it to the ballot stage.

With backers of proposed amendments required to submit 891,589 petition signatures to get measures on the 2022 ballot, paid petition-gathering drives likely would cost millions of dollars.

The citizen initiative process is one of five ways to amend the Florida Constitution. Voters must approve citizen initiatives and other proposed amendments by a 60% vote to alter the constitution.

No citizen initiatives will appear on the November ballot this year.

Last month, the House approved the bill 80-40, with Democratic Reps. Mike Grieco and Anika Omphroy voting with the Republican majority. That followed a 22-16 vote in the Senate on near party lines after Sanford Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur presented the bill. The only Republican to vote against the bill was St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

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.


4 comments

  • tom palmer

    April 5, 2022 at 6:01 pm

    Ron DeSantis should be the last person to speak about the evils of out-of-state campaign donations. How could he sign that with a straight face?

    • just sayin

      April 6, 2022 at 7:46 am

      Well, the good thing is it won’t matter when he runs against the mumbling old man for President.

      • tom palmer

        April 8, 2022 at 4:31 pm

        Yeah, you’re right. Trump seems to be losing it.

  • PeterH

    April 7, 2022 at 12:31 am

    This bill is dead on arrival with the next court appeal.

Comments are closed.


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