Emma Collum works with other volunteers to collect signatures in support of an abortion-rights ballot initiative from attendees during PrideFete. (John McCall/South Florida Sun Sentinel)
By Mario Ariza for Floodlight and the Orlando Sentinel
Over the past five years, the largest power company in the U.S. quietly financed groups working to restrict Floridians’ ability to change laws independent of the legislature.
Now, the changes to state law spurred in part by Florida Power & Light’s successful attempts to control energy policy are throwing up roadblocks for reproductive rights advocates fighting to overturn the state’s 15-week abortion ban.
“I have had people feel very overwhelmed because they have heard that the legislature has changed the citizen petition process to make it harder to reach,” said Emma Collum, a volunteer who’s been gathering signatures to get a constitutional amendment protecting abortion rights on the 2024 ballot.
The state’s constitution allows citizens to amend it via petition. While Republicans have controlled the state house since 1996, Floridians have a history of passing progressive policies via those petitions. That’s getting harder. Since 2018, 13 Republican legislators have sponsored 22 bills in the state house designed to impede those petitions, a form of direct democracy known as ballot initiatives.
Four bills, including legislation increasing the cost of verifying signatures and shortening the window in which they can be collected, have become law.
During that period, FPL secretly pumped more than $14 million into a network of dark money groups, which ultimately steered millions into supporting steeper requirements for ballot initiatives. It paid more than $6.8 million to two powerful trade organizations, The Florida Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Florida, which have been the loudest critics of ballot initiatives. And it has heaped at least $3.4 million in campaign donations onto key legislators who proposed or greenlit restrictive laws, according to an analysis of Florida campaign finance data.