Miranda Disgusted by Council Wavering On Campaign Issue
TAMPA - City council members killed a plan Thursday to further limit campaign contributions to city council candidates. Then they revived it. Then they threatened to kill it again. All over the course of a few hours. By the time it was all over, one city council member was so fed up with what he called a "dysfunctional" council that he said he was considering a run for county commission. "This is crazy," Councilman Charlie Miranda said in his office after the meeting. "This is worse than the county commission. I'm disgusted here." At issue was Councilman John Dingfelder's proposal to limit campaign contributions in city council races to $200 per contributor, per election. The current limit is $500.He asked the council to support his motion to have the city's legal department research the issue of campaign contribution limits. That would have been the next step toward eventually asking voters to amend the charter. Dingfelder tried to convince the council that spending for council races has gotten out of control. He said it's "obscene" for council candidates to raise six figures to launch their campaigns and that reducing contribution limits could force candidates to spend more time discussing issues rather than raising money. Some Tampa residents at Thursday's meeting agreed with Dingfelder, but several council members said they didn't support the idea. Councilman Joseph Caetano and Councilwoman Gwen Miller said that if candidates don't want to accept $500 contributions, they don't have to. Councilman Tom Scott said the limits can hurt candidates who are challenging incumbents because the challengers might need to spend more money to gain name recognition. And Councilman Charlie Miranda said $100 in 1974, the limit at the time, is equal to about $500 today. He even held up six $100 bills to illustrate his point. He also promised that if he runs again for office, he wouldn't accept any campaign contributions. "I firmly believe we are heading in the wrong direction by changing the amount," Miranda said. Only Councilwoman Linda Saul-Sena voted with Dingfelder to ask the city's legal department to further research the issue. That seemed to kill the idea, until the end of the eight-hour meeting, when Councilwoman Mary Mulhern said she would be willing to revisit the issue. She and Saul-Sena suggested holding a workshop on the matter on May 29. That infuriated Miranda, who asked, "How many times does something have to lose here to lose?" Miranda said he could fill the Tampa Convention Center on the issue. Taking him literally, the board voted to hold the meeting there May 29. Miranda said he would sign an affidavit vowing not to spend any money on any future runs for office, and he would ask the other council members to sign affidavits as well. "That's true campaign reform," Miranda said. After the meeting, Caetano walked into Miranda's office and told him he misunderstood the vote on holding a meeting in the convention center. Miranda said he couldn't talk to Caetano about it because of Sunshine Law restrictions, which prohibit elected officials from talking to each other about items that might come before them. In a later interview with a reporter, however, Caetano said he would ask the council next week to cancel the May 29 workshop. If canceled, the campaign finance reform issue would be all but dead. Meanwhile, in his office, Miranda said he was eyeing a run for county commission in 2010. He said he would consider running to replace Rose Ferlita if she doesn't run for re-election. Ferlita is widely expected to run for mayor. "We're dysfunctional," Miranda said. "If we were running a $750 million business, the business would be bankrupt."
Reporter Ellen Gedalius can be reached at (813) 259-7679 or [email protected]