Thursday, February 4, 2010

Court's campaign finance ruling won't affect local races

A recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling will allow corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts of money to support their favored candidates for federal offices, like president and Congress, with TV ads and the like, while leaving in place prohibitions against them contributing directly to a candidate's campaign.

In politics, the Supreme Court ruled, money is speech - even when spent by a business - so under the First Amendment, you can't restrict it.

The ruling, however, should have no effect on Florida law, which already allows businesses and unions to directly contribute up to $500 per election to candidates for state and local offices, like the Legislature and county commissions. (They can also contribute additional amounts to political action committees that turn around and support candidates of their choice.)

To see the financial role companies, labor unions and the like can play in funding, look at the campaign finance reports filed by candidates for the Manatee County Commission this year.

Out of the more than $80,000 in contributions District 4 Republican candidate Robin DiSabatino - by far, the most prolific fund-raiser among candidates for the commission - had collected as of Dec. 31, almost $50,000 had come from land development firms, small businesses and other companies, according to reports filed with the county elections office.

That does not include contributions that business owners, executives, etc. and their families might have given in their own names. (Of DiSabatino's business contributions, $9,000 came from Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and other business entities with direct ties to the developer of Lakewood Ranch.)

By comparison, the second-biggest fund-raiser in the District 4 race, Norm Luppino had collected $511.75 in business contributions - with all but a single $100 donation coming in the form of in-kind services. Luppino, a former county planner, had collected more than $4,500 in contributions, as of Dec. 31, according to the elections office.

Another beneficiary of corporate giving has been Manatee County Commissioner Carol Whitmore, who as of Dec. 31 had collected $35,600 in contributionsfor her re-election campaign for an at-large seat on the commission. Of that amount, more than $14,000 had come from donors listed as businesses on her disclosure report.

To see the list of DiSabatino's contributors, go here.

To see the list of Luppino's contributors, go here.

To see the list of Whitmore's contributors, go here.

And for information on other candidates for the commission and other local positions, go here.

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