Billboard companies are notorious in utilizing political contributions to gain influence with elected officials at the local, state, and federal level. The extent of this influence is demonstrated elsewhere in this website [see Billboard Lobby Finds Friend in PA; The Great Billboard Doublecross; Buying Billboards and Lawmakers; Lawmakers Should Reject Disastrous Billboard Proposal; Legislative Lickspittles Bow Before Arrogant Sign Lobbyists; Billboards – Lobby Steamrolls Public].
Political contributions can take two forms. First, outright cash contributions to political campaigns. Second, providing candidates (usually incumbents) with billboard advertising for free or at reduced rates – or undercharging for billboard usage during a campaign; this is a form of in-kind contributions which are subject to the same dollar limitations. Third, political action committees.
Assuming that campaign reports are complete and duly filed, the extent of cash contributions from the billboard industry (or any other special interest) can be identified. However, there have been occasions when billboard interests have illegally funneled campaign money through employees. Whenever billboard legislation is pending, it is important to review the public records of campaign contributions to determine the extent of the direct or indirect political contributions by the industry.
It is also important to monitor billboard advertising for candidates (by location and length of showing), and then check the campaign reports – both the in-kind contributions and the expenses. If five billboards (14′ x 48′ in size) are displayed for three months, and the lease rate per billboard face is normally $2,500 per face, then there has been $37,500 in billboard advertising for the candidate (not including the cost of the artwork). How much has been reported as an in-kind contribution and how much has been paid as a campaign expense? If the total is $37,500 (plus the cost of the artwork), and if there is the in-kind contribution did not exceed the legal limits, then there is no problem. However, if the campaign reports show something radically different, it is time to contact the Elections Office or the State Attorney.
The Florida Secretary of State’s Division of Elections has online information as to campaign contributions at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/campfin/contrib.asp and campaign expenditures at http://election.dos.state.fl.us/campfin/expend.asp