Campaign finance proposal is dead

04/17/08 Mitch E. Perry
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A plan floated by Tampa City Councilman John Dingfelder to bring campaign finance reform to Tampa City clections died today.

The idea was one Dingfelder had discussed for a full year, ever since he ended up being involved in the most expensive race in city history.

The councilman had formed a committee in recent months to come up with a plan that would ban corporate and PAC donations, reduce the individual contribution from the current $500 to $200 and create more transparency of campaign contributions.

Some members of the public had said they wanted such limits. Randy Baron, a neighborhood activist who ran for City Council earlier this year, said he favors more transparency in campaign contributions.

Citizen Susan Long spoke in support of lowing contributions.

Pat Kemp is with the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee, and is the wife of WMNF program director Randy Wynne. She also spoke in support of lowing campaign contributions.

But Dingfelder felt intense opposition from some members of the City Council, none more fervent in his dissent than Councilman Charlie Miranda.

Miranda went on an extended monologue, including references to former Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles changing state campaign finance maximum contributions from $1,000 to $500 in 1992.

Last year, Dingfelder spent $150,000 to defeat attorney Julie Brown, who also spent $150,000, a record in the city. He was also the victim of some of Brown’s contributions coming from friends and associates of a disgruntled car dealer, Jason Kuhn, who ended up bundling contributions from his employees – which is against the law, but which Hillsborough State Attorney Mark Ober recently declined to prosecute.

So with that background, Dingfelder has pushed hard for such campaign finance reductions, but saw it all crumbling on the council today.

Dingfelder said the council should allow the measure to at least be put on the ballot.

But Dingfelder received very little support from his colleagues. Councilwoman Gwen Miller said there was no reason for limits, because if candidates felt so strongly about the issue, they shouldn’t try to raise so much money.

Council member Mary Mulhern said she had been fighting for campaign finance reform for decades, but said she wasn’t sure any of it would pass constitutional muster.

But that comment seemed to anger Dingfelder, who had distributed a short document on the research he had done on the issue.

Dingfelder said he was mirroring his bill on reducing campaign contributions to what Sarasota County did years ago when it limited contributions to $200. That law was upheld in the 12th Judicial Court in 1999.

The conversations then devolved from there, and ended with the Councilman Thomas Scott chastising Dingfelder for creating his own committee to study the issue, not one supported by the entire Council.

The motion to put Dingfelder’s proposal on the ballot went down 5-2, with Linda Saul-Sena and Dingfelder in favor.

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