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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Florida Decision Puts Voters in the Dark, Wealthy Interests in the Driver's Seat

As Gary Fineout reports in the Miami Herald, the Florida Division of Elections has issued an advisory opinion that many campaign commericals run by so-called independent organizations are not actually campaign ads at all, because they don't use magic words like "vote for" or "vote against".

The decision by the Division of Elections allows third party groups to run ads attacking or promoting candidates without being subject to the contribution limits, or even disclosure requirements that apply to other committees. In effect, the decision means open season for wealthy interests that support or oppose a candidate -- tv ads, radio ads, print ads, mailings can all be done under cover of the night, without voters knowing who is bankrolling them.

It is not clear that the decision by the Division of Elections makes sense considering the statutory history, which mentions the problem of sham "issue advocacy" ads. If the Division of Elections is correctly interpreting the law, the Florida Legislature needs to close this gaping loophole in the law. There are proven simple and constitutional means of doing so. If not, the Division just gutted Florida's laws and opened up the floodgates to a barrage of untraceable political ads.

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