Because of new state law, only quarterly campaign finance filings required of candidates until an election year begins

Supervisor of Elections Office staff points to language in Senate Bill 7050

This is the top the homepage of the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections Office.

Over the past several years, The Sarasota News Leader has provided monthly accounts of the campaign finance reports for candidates for Sarasota County Commission seats.

Through July, the News Leader featured updates on amounts that the three early filers for the District 1 and 3 seats had raised, including some details about the persons and entities who contributed the money.

The candidates for District 1 are Republicans Teresa Mast, owner of a construction business; Ray Pilon, a former county commissioner and a past member of the Florida House; and Les Nichols, a veteran of the Marine Corps and a property manager. Gregory Wood, a south Venice Realtor, had filed for the District 3 seat.

Then, in July, Neil Rainford of Sarasota, whom Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to the District 3 seat to fill out the term of the late Commissioner Nancy Detert; and former Sheriff Tom Knight of Venice both filed to succeed Detert in the 2024 race.

However, thanks to action of the Florida Legislature this year, no further campaign finance reports will be available until October.

In response to a News Leader request for information last week about why no July campaign finance reports had been posted to the Sarasota County Supervisor of Elections website, Taylor Mansfield, administrative and election operations coordinator on Supervisor of Elections Ron Turner’s staff, responded with the following information: “Due to Senate Bill 7050, the calendar of reporting dates has now changed. These reports will now be submitted quarterly throughout the end of the year. The last report reflected on our website is the period ending in 6/30. The next report will not be posted until October 10th.”

State Sen. Travis Hutson. Image from his Florida Senate webpages

Filed by state Sen. Travis Hutson, a Palm Coast Republican who represents District 7 (Flagler, Putnam and St. Johns counties and part of Volusia County), the bill won approval in the state Senate on a vote of 28-12; it was approved on a House vote of 76-34. Gov. DeSantis signed it into law on May 24, the bill’s Senate webpages show.

The bill’s summary says that the measure “continues Florida’s commitment to the integrity of elections. The bill increases the security of vote-by-mail ballots, makes changes to enhance the accuracy of Florida’s voter rolls, and improves access to reports and data to boost voter confidence.”

The summary also notes, “The bill modernizes and streamlines campaign finance requirements by:

  • “Revising reporting frequency for political committees, candidates, and electioneering communications organizations to quarterly outside of the active election cycle.
  • “Preempting local governments from enacting a reporting schedule that differs from that provided in statute.
  • “Adding text messages to the list of services and costs that do not constitute contributions that count toward specified limits.”

The relevant language in Section 45, Subsection 1(c) of the bill follows:

“Each campaign treasurer designated by a candidate or political committee pursuant to [Section 106.021 of the Florida Statutes] shall file regular reports of all contributions received, and all expenditures made, by or on behalf of such candidate or political committee. Except for the third calendar quarter immediately preceding a general election as provided in paragraphs (a) and (b), reports must be filed on the 10th day following the end of each calendar quarter month from the time the campaign treasurer is appointed, except that, if the 10th day following the end of a  calendar quarter month occurs on a Saturday, Sunday, or legal  holiday, the report must be filed on the next following day that is not a Saturday, Sunday, or legal holiday. Quarterly reports must include all contributions received and expenditures made during the calendar quarter which have not otherwise been reported pursuant to this section.”

Then Subsection 1(f) says, “A county, a municipality, or any other local governmental entity is expressly preempted from enacting or adopting a reporting schedule that differs from the requirements established in this subsection.”

Section 48, Subsection (2)(b) adds, “A candidate for statewide office may not accept contributions from national, state, or county executive committees of a political party, including any subordinate committee of the political party, or affiliated party  committees, which contributions in the aggregate exceed $250,000. Polling services, research services, costs for campaign staff, professional consulting services, telephone calls, and text messages are not contributions to be counted toward the contribution limits ..”

The Florida Capitol is in Tallahassee, with the more modern legislative building in the background. Photo by Michael Rivera via Wikimedia Commons

Among other provisions of the bill, the summary explains that it does the following:

  • “Requires signature matching training for any person whose duties require verification of signatures of vote-by-mail ballots, affidavits, and petitions, and clarifies requirements related to voter signature updates.
  • “Strengthens regulations related to third-party voter registration organizations to protect individuals who entrust their personal information and voter registration applications to them.
  • “Requires additional information to be included on voter information cards.
  • “Implements recommendations from the Department of State’s vote-by-mail report to” require a uniform statewide application form to request a vote-by-mail ballot; to require a vote-by-mail ballot mailing envelope to be clearly marked “Do Not Forward”; to revise requirements for picking up a vote-by-mail ballot in person; and to provide “that if two or more vote-by-mail ballots for the same election are returned in one mailing envelope, none shall be counted.
  • “Facilitates efficient identification of voters who have moved by enhancing processes for address list maintenance activities.
  • “Enhances frequency and content of information other governmental entities must provide to the Department of State and supervisors of elections for list maintenance activities that ensure eligibility of voters.
  • “Specifies that a voter undergoing eligibility review must vote a provisional ballot and provides implementing requirements.”