Florida Republicans Bring Back Legal Graft With Disgraced “Leadership Funds”
You’re a Florida businessman who’d benefit from legislation sitting before your state lawmakers? You wish there were an easy way to meet with the leaders of the House or Senate, pull out a wad of cash and buy their vote?
Well, quit your wishing — it’s legal (again) in Florida to do exactly that. No kidding: you can make an appointment with senior lawmakers over a bill, tell them you want them to vote in your favor, and then hand them a fat check.
You would call this “bribery” or “corruption.” But Florida Republicans comically refer to it as “leadership funds.”
TALLAHASSEE – The Florida Legislature voted Thursday to revive so-called “leadership funds” that will let future legislative leaders dig deeper into the pockets of industry groups and lobbyists and spend those dollars more directly on campaigns.
The bill, HB 1207, was vetoed last year by former Gov. Charlie Crist, who said Florida’s history of political corruption before the funds were outlawed in 1989 had allowed “legislative leaders to solicit and accept campaign contributions during the legislative session from lobbyists and interest groups outside the public view.”
But with breakneck speed, House and Senate leaders decided last week to revisit the issue and overturn the veto. Republicans said the change would shine more light on the gobs of money that legislative leaders have to raise presently through the state parties.
Republicans revived these slush funds by putting lipstick on the piggy bank — they’ll list the donors now, and from now on. See? All better. Isn’t transparency wonderful?
Lord, no. The ways “leadership funds” will abominate the Florida legislature and swing power toward the Right prove endless:
1.) Because the funds are received, controlled and distributed by the two parties’ top legislators (speakers, minority and majority leaders), it encourages donors to act in direct response to legislation. You want a bill passed? Here, Mr. Speaker, take my check. Republicans say it won’t be a problem. Their politics are, of course, always above corruption.
2.) Because only the party in power can deliver on legislative promises, they’re the practical beneficiaries of the “funds.” In Florida, it’s the Republicans who hold comfortable majorities of 81-39 in the House and 28-12 in the Senate. Not too many of the politically eager will waste their money on Democrats. How did the March 24th vote come out? 81-39 and 30-9, right along party lines. Karl Rove, he of the “permanent Republican majority” fame, would pee in his pants.
3.) Someone who wants to contribute to a politician’s campaign is limited to $500. But the senior lawmakers in charge of the funds can dump 100 times that, $50,000, into any race. With that sort of moneyed power, senior Republicans can lock down their caucus. For example, a developer who wants an independent-minded Republican to green-light legislation for a project in his district can entice him with only $500. But through the majority leader, the developer can bury him with $50,000. The majority leader can also sweat the independent pol by holding back the funds until he changes his mind. Or he can threaten to use the funds to support another candidate at primary. The amount of power up for use and abuse is limited only by your imagination.
4.) As “leadership funds” become part of Florida’s political landscape again, expect canny Republicans to play games with donors, again. Legislation that gets the attention of competing, well-funded interests presents a rich opportunity. You’re mulling over a bill that establishes a new casino? The casino developers and the nearest casino operators would certainly compete against one another for “yes” and “no” votes. Gag your caucus while the two sides pour more and more money into your “leadership” bank accounts, and then vote for the side that donates more.
Nothing good comes out of corruption, even when it’s in broad daylight. The St. Petersburg Times‘ Howard Troxler has been writing consistently, passionately, hilariously about this appalling absurdity:
So now, just as it was in Florida’s corrupt past, if you are an interest group that wants a law passed, you simply go to the leaders of the House and Senate …
And you pay them off directly.
Unbelievable, isn’t it?
It is now legal. To pay. Money. Directly. To the leaders of the Florida Legislature.Click here for reuse options!
Copyright 2011 Liberaland