Editor’s note: The legislation discussed below passed on May 17, 2016.
Raise your hand if you’ve got some trust issues with politicians.
Raise your other hand if that’s at least partially because you don’t know where the money funding those politicians comes from.
Now, how do you feel knowing only two of your county commissioners (out of 13) showed up to a meeting to discuss legislation that would tell you that?
Yesterday Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine-Cava held a workshop on campaign finance reform legislation that would ratchet up the financial disclosure requirements for local politicians and candidates, requiring them to report when they raise money for political committees. But only her and one other commissioner, Xavier Suarez, were there.
Campaign finance reform boils down to knowing where the money that fuels candidates and campaigns comes from and stopping that money from having undue political influence.
And right now, Miami-Dade County has a pretty big loophole that allows politicians and candidates to keep the source of much of their funding a secret if they want.
“Secrecy in campaign finance is the enemy of public trust,” Levine-Cava told The New Tropic.
There are a couple key terms that will make this easier to understand:
- Solicitations: A politician or candidate asking people for money
- Contribution: Money
- Disclosures: Making contributions public
- 527s: tax-exempt organizations with the purpose of pushing the election/nomination/appointment/selection of a candidate to office. Many political action committees, commonly called PACs, are 527s.
- 501(c)(4)s: tax-exempt organizations with a social welfare purpose
While politicians and candidates have to disclose when they solicit contributions for themselves directly and it can’t top $1,000 from a single source, they don’t have to disclose when they solicit money for 527s or 501(c)(4)s, who could be quiet supporters of the candidates who turn around and spend that money on their behalf.
Yea, you’re beginning to see the issue, right?
Levine-Cava said the problem became apparent to her when she was running for the commissioner seat in 2014. She had a campaign account and she had to report contributions to that monthly. All good, all above board.
But she also had a political committee that she didn’t have to register – even though it was linked directly to her campaign. If she had chosen to be secretive about that committee, she easily could have, she said.
With this proposed ordinance, Levine-Cava would have to file a form disclosing that organization as well as the contributions to it.
There’s been a lot of pushback to the proposal, which obviously takes away a bit of the freewheeling, Wild West nature of campaign finance that makes things a bit easier for politicians and candidates here. The changes would make Miami-Dade County’s campaign finance laws slightly stricter than those at the state level, while right now it lags behind the state.
Justin Wales, an attorney with Carlton-Fields and founder of Engage Miami, sums up the central question this way: “Will you still be asking the same people for money knowing that what was once anonymous will now be disclosed?” (Engage Miami, a local organization promoting civic engagement, is circulating a petition in support of Levine-Cava’s ordinance.)
“We’re making a decision as a community that when someone is using their influence… that we want that to be fully disclosed so we can know where the money is flowing and who is benefiting from these solicitations.”
Want to get in on the debate? There are a couple weeks left before the Board of County Commissioners brings the issue to a vote. You can contact your commissioners by phone, e-mail, snail mail, and Twitter (if you’re pro-ordinance, jump on their hashtag #ShineTheLight).