Elections need limits

Published: Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 30, 2009 at 3:22 p.m.

If you like your elections filled with sleazy attacks, paid for with legally laundered money well, you're in luck.

That's what we've got in Florida, and it's going to get worse unless the Legislature does something about it.

The recent election in Jacksonville to replace the late state Sen. Jim King turned into a slime-fest of competing interest groups.

The winner, John Thrasher a former speaker of the state House trying to return to the Legislature was favored by the state's business community and opposed by the state's trial lawyers.

This past week, we learned that the lawyers were behind a particularly nasty, racist mailer with photographs of President Barack Obama, the Black Panthers, the Rev. Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, and black marchers with ACORN signs. The caption: "Is this the change YOU want to believe in?"

The irony is that the lawyers' group, the Florida Justice Association, is more closely identified with the Democratic Party than conservative causes. The intent apparently was to rile up conservative voters against Thrasher in a Republican primary.

The lawyers hid behind the names "Conservative Voters' Coalition" and "Conservative Citizens for Justice."

Not that the Republican side was sitting around idle. We also learned this past week that business groups have poured $1.1 million since May into an outfit called the "Freedom First Committee," controlled by the future president of the Florida Senate, Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne. He formed the committee to help Thrasher's campaign.

My colleagues Steve Bousquet and Shannon Colavecchio report that major donors to the group include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, insurers, agriculture, the alcoholic beverage industry, hospitals and real estate development.

And if you thought Haridopolos might at least be slightly ashamed, you'd be wrong: "That is the price of doing business," he declared, "and I'm not going to leave my friends in the Senate out there without protection."

To add to the confusion, a federal judge recently threw out Florida's law requiring "electioneering" groups to register and report their finances. These groups often attack candidates without specifically urging people to vote against them.

If I were king (hah!) I'd throw out every rule we have and write the law this way: You can give as much money to a candidate as you want, as long as you give it under your own name and it is immediately made public. Let the voters know who's really paying.

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