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Sun Sentinel: Lester Abberger and Marilynn Wills: Put all campaign finance reports online

Monday, February 24, 2014

Corruption shrinks from sunlight; disclosure is the key to accountability. The public has long known that to hold elected officials and candidates accountable, we must be able to follow the money.

In 2013, true to Florida’s laudable open-government history and culture, our Legislature enacted a package of significant campaign finance reforms. Championed by House Speaker Will Weatherford and Sen. Jack Latvala, the legislation provides for more frequent disclosure of campaign finance information so Floridians can better follow campaign spending.

The new campaign finance law made a variety of meaningful changes, but perhaps the most important was a requirement that the Division of Elections create an enhanced transparency website and develop a new system to put all campaign finance disclosure forms from both local and state-level campaigns in one place.

If our Florida Legislature decides to move forward with the Division of Elections proposal, Floridians would be able to research, on one website, the campaign spending of candidates and issues on our ballots from the state level to our municipal elections.

In essence, these reforms provide voters with the information they need to hold candidates accountable. Yet, despite these reforms, the quality of the information included in Florida’s disclosure reports is rated poorly in comparison to some other states. Florida can do better.

The LeRoy Collins Institute and Integrity Florida have jointly prepared an in-depth analysis of Florida’s campaign finance policies and provided information about suggested best practices the Legislature should consider to enhance the value of reforms already in place.

Tough Choices: Best Practices in Campaign Finance and Public Access to Information, the latest report in the Tough Choices series, compares Florida to the rest of the nation, particularly with how much money in politics information is shared with the public and the quality of that information.

Although the report found that Florida’s current campaign finance transparency website is useful, several other states — including Maine, Kentucky, Washington and Hawaii — are better addressing these issues.

As Florida begins to develop the new transparency website, we suggest mirroring the best practices we’ve identified in our report to provide the best access to quality information for the public.

The steps taken in 2013 laid impressive and substantial groundwork for increasing public access to information.

By incorporating the best practices identified in our research, Florida has the potential to truly live up to its open-government heritage.

Lester Abberger is Chair of the Board at the LeRoy Collins Institute and Marilynn Wills is Chair of the Board at Integrity Florida.

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