Money lines up in constitutional amendment fights

by | Oct 27, 2020

TALLAHASSEE — As Florida voters weigh a list of proposed constitutional amendments, backers and opponents have poured money in recent weeks into battles over raising Florida’s minimum wage and revamping the primary-election system.

A political committee of the SEIU Florida labor union has spent at least $1.05 million since late September to support Florida For A Fair Wage PAC, which is spearheading a proposal that would gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour, according to a state campaign-finance database. The union’s contributions are described as “in-kind” but include covering the costs of digital ads, video production, text messaging and staffing.

The proposal, which appears on the ballot as Amendment 2, is often identified with prominent Orlando lawyer John Morgan, who spent millions of dollars to put it on the ballot and chairs Florida For A Fair Wage. If approved, the proposal would increase the state’s minimum wage — currently $8.56 an hour — to $10 on Sept. 30, 2021, and incrementally increase the rate each year until reaching $15 on Sept. 30, 2026.

But while Morgan has been the public face of the amendment drive, SEIU has played a key financial role. To pass, the measure will need support from 60 percent of voters in the Nov. 3 election.

“NO ONE can live on $8.56 an hour. Period,” SEIU said in a tweet this month. “Voting YES on Amendment 2 will FINALLY raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and provide Floridians with wages we can all live on.”

But businesses and groups, led by the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to try to defeat the minimum-wage amendment. The committee Save Florida Jobs, Inc., has raised at least $482,439 in cash and in-kind contributions since mid-August to fight the measure, with $202,470 coming from the restaurant and lodging association.

While their efforts are not reflected in the Save Florida Jobs finance reports, groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce also are fighting the proposal.

“Don’t vote yourself out of a job in November … Reject Job-Killing Amendment 2,” the Florida Chamber tweeted this month.

Voters are deciding whether to approve six proposed constitutional amendments, with most drawing relatively little attention in an election dominated by the race between President Donald Trump and Democrat Joe Biden. Along with the minimum-wage proposal, the amendment that has drawn the biggest fight is a measure that would overhaul the state’s primary-election system.

The proposal, which appears on the ballot as Amendment 3, would allow voters to cast ballots in primary elections regardless of party affiliation. The two candidates getting the most votes in each primary would advance to the general election.

The political committee All Voters Vote, which has been primarily funded by Miami-Dade County businessman Mike Fernandez, has led the effort to pass the amendment. Fernandez last week contributed $1.2 million to the committee through a personal contribution and a related firm, MBF Family Investments Ltd. Fernandez also put $125,000 into the effort on Sept. 30, finance reports show.

All Voters Vote reported spending about $1.249 million during the past two weeks, with most of the money going to advertising-related expenses.

The proposed amendment has faced opposition from the state Republican and Democratic parties, though it is not clear how much they might have spent to fight it. Late last year, lawyers for the parties unsuccessfully asked the Florida Supreme Court to block the proposal.

Also, another legal challenge was filed this month at the Supreme Court to try to scuttle the measure, with opponents saying the changes to the primary system would make it harder to elect minority candidates. The challenge remained pending as of early Monday afternoon.


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