Who is paying for citizens amendment? It’s a secret. | Editorial

Nobody should be able to buy their way on to the ballot and into the Florida Constitution without disclosing who is paying for it.
John Loudon speaks at an event in Miami this month to deliver the final signatures for Florida Citizen Voters. With him is Gabriel Alfonzo, a naturalized citizen from Venezuela and Jose Montas, a naturalized citizen from Dominican Republic. [Courtesy of John Loudon]
John Loudon speaks at an event in Miami this month to deliver the final signatures for Florida Citizen Voters. With him is Gabriel Alfonzo, a naturalized citizen from Venezuela and Jose Montas, a naturalized citizen from Dominican Republic. [Courtesy of John Loudon]
Published July 24

It’s a ploy to get more Trump voters to the polls. Or it’s a plot to make it harder for more progressive constitutional amendments to make it to the ballot. Or it’s some other devious scheme to interfere with the electoral process and manipulate Floridians. Regardless of the motivation behind a suspicious drive for an unnecessary amendment involving citizenship, no one should be able to buy their way on to the ballot and into the Florida Constitution without at least disclosing who is paying for it.

An innocuously named group, Florida Citizen Voters, has announced it has collected twice the number of signatures needed to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot in November 2020. Never mind that the amendment only replaces one word with two words so the state constitution would say only a citizen could vote instead of every citizen can vote. Never mind that federal law bans noncitizens from voting. Never mind that adding these two words in the Florida Constitution won’t change anything.

So here are three key questions:

1. Where did more than $4.6 million raised in cash and “in-kind’’ contributions by Florida Citizen Voters come from to enable it to fiddle with the Florida Constitution and interfere with the 2020 election?

It’s untraceable. All of that money was given to Florida Citizen Voters by Citizen Voters Inc. That nonprofit was just created in 2018 and did not collect any money until 2019, so it will not have to disclose its sources of income until 2020. How convenient.

2. Who is behind this amendment drive?

That is only slightly clearer. The director of the Florida Citizen Voters campaign is John Loudon, a former Missouri state lawmaker who lives in Palm Beach County. He also is a director of Citizen Voters Inc., which contributed all of the money to the effort. The Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau also reports that both groups were established by Erika Alba, a Jacksonville lawyer who is general counsel for the business lobbying group Associated Industries of Florida and who served as head of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Super PAC in 2018. The Washington Post reports that another player is a political strategist based in Arizona who has helped lead dozens of ballot initiatives around the country and has deep ties to the Republican Party.

3. What is the real motivation behind this effort?

Unclear. The Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau it is straining local supervisors of elections offices by dumping hundreds of thousands of voter petitions that have to be verified. Supporters of another constitutional amendment that would deregulate the electric utility industry suspect it is an intentional attempt to make it harder for their petitions to get verified. The Post report suggests it is part of an effort to help President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign by keeping immigration at the forefront and driving up Republican turnout.

What is clear is that such secretive efforts to amend the Florida Constitution are an insult to voters and an abuse of the electoral process. What is clear is that all of the bluster in the Florida Legislature about the danger of out-of-state influences behind constitutional amendments rings hollow — and the new law that creates more hurdles for gathering signatures has put an unfair burden and cost on county supervisors of elections.

The real danger here is not an influx of petition gatherers who now have to complete more paperwork and be paid by the hour. It’s not the window for voter signatures to be validated that has now been set at 30 days from the time the signature was obtained. The real danger is that voters do not know what special interest is providing the untraceable cash behind amendment drives such as Florida Citizen Voters. When is the Florida Legislature going to do something about that?

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