Florida law caps campaign contributions to candidates at $500, but the limit is meaningless. Donors throw unlimited funds at favored politicians through various committees and groups that are unaffected by the cap and protected by court rulings.
"You don't see it," Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford, a Pasco Republican, says of the contributions, "and you can't trace it."
Weatherford rightly favors reform and likes a smart proposal from Integrity Florida, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. It proposes to get rid of contribution caps, but mandate transparency on all donations.
The idea of unlimited contributions unsettles many people, but the current situation is a farce. The $500 limit for a primary and another $500 for the general election were adopted in 1991 to keep money from unduly influencing elections. But it is easily eluded, and voters usually can't see who is bankrolling candidates.
Weatherford brings up another advantage of killing the cap.
"It would put the candidate back in control of the campaign, not outsiders," he says. "This process, with the money going to these groups, has emasculated candidates."
There are risks. A wealthy donor could spend millions of dollars to advance an agenda. But money does not guarantee success — as casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, who spent $53 million to defeat President Barack Obama, discovered last year.
As Integrity Florida has stated: "The public is right to be concerned about the corrupting influence of money in politics buying too much influence on public policy. Our view is that corruption does not like sunlight, and disclosure is the key to accountability."
Lawmakers should trust voters and try things without the campaign contribution cap.