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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 4, 2013 1 year ago

PIC's voice is changing to comply with a state bill

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by: Robin Hartill Managing Editor
 

The Longboat Key Public Interest Committee’s (PIC) newsletter is called “The Voice of Longboat Key.”
The organization formed 27 years ago to provide a voice — in the form of factual, nonbiased information — to residents about town issues.

Now, that voice is changing.

PIC’s board will meet in October to discuss possible reorganization.

The reason, first and foremost, is that PIC has typically reported to the Florida Elections Commission (FEC) as a committee of continuous existence (CCE). But a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law eliminates CCEs, a type of quasi-political action committee that virtually anyone, including candidates for office, could create. Critics argued they were ripe for abuse because they lacked limits on what expenditures were allowed.

As a result, PIC — and all other CCEs — must cease all operations and have a zero bank-account balance by Sept. 30.

At the same time the Legislature was passing broad changes to the state’s campaign finance laws, the FEC investigating a complaint former Longboat Key Town Commission candidate Gene Jaleski filed.

Jaleski alleged that PIC failed to register as a political committee when it advertised its endorsements for the March election.

The FEC determined that PIC “failed to register as a political committee and published a political advertisement that did not comply with statutory disclaimer requirements.”

PIC agreed to pay a $600 fine after a hearing.

The organization’s Co-President, Ann Roth, described the violation as “not intentional” and said the violation stemmed from advertisements in both Key newspapers.

“There were minor unintentional violations stemming from our paid advertisements and we had never done paid advertisements previously,” said Gaele Barthold, PIC co-president.

Although PIC could register as a political committee, that’s not the path the board believes the organization should take — in part because of the extensive reporting requirements and constant legal changes.

Next month, the board will meet to discuss reorganizing as a 501(c)(3) or 501(c)(4) organization “with the intent of continuing our educational mission without political overtones,” according to a letter the board sent PIC members last week.

The new organization will be unable to advertise its endorsements if it’s not a political committee, although it could continue to hold debates and educational forums.

“We’ve always been a civic, not-for-profit organization that discussed topics of interest for decades,” Roth said.

Contact Robin Hartill at rhartill@yourobserver.com.
 

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