Public Financing Not Dead Yet
A wide open race for governor and three seats on the Cabinet could wind up costing state taxpayers millions next year.
While the Republican-controlled Legislature moved to end what it called “welfare for politicians,” state lawmakers refused to pass a bill that would have greatly reduced the amount of taxpayer money spent during the 2010 elections.
The move means that Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who declared Wednesday she was running for governor, as well as other potential candidates such as Attorney General Bill McCollum could spend up to $22.6 million on their campaigns and still qualify for taxpayer money.
The Legislature placed on the 2010 ballot a measure that asks voters to kill public financing for statewide campaigns. But the House refused to take up a companion measure passed by the Senate that would have forced candidates for governor to cap their total campaign spending at $7 million in order to qualify for matching money from the state. The legislation would have forced Cabinet candidates to cap spending at $3 million.
Rep. Alan Hays, R-Umatilla, blamed House leadership including House Speaker Larry Cretul, R-Ocala, for the decision to keep the spending limits at their current levels, which is tied to the number of registered voters in Florida. Hays said he does not who objected to the bill, or why it wasn’t passed.
“I’m terribly disappointed,’’ Hays said. “The decision was made higher up the food chain than me.’’
A spokeswoman for Cretul said that the bill had been amended in such a way that it couldn’t be resolved before the end of the regular session on May 1. Rep. Bill Galvano, the House rules chairman responsible for controlling what legislation is taken up, said he did not recall why the bill was killed.
“It doesn’t ring a bell,’’ Galvano said Wednesday.
Florida has had public financing for campaigns for more than 20 years and it was eventually placed in the state constitution by voters in 1998. Florida is one of 16 states that have full or partial public financing of campaigns.
The only major candidate to forgo public matching money was former Gov. Jeb Bush during the three times he ran for governor.
The idea behind public financing was to give public money to those candidates who agreed to limit their overall campaign spending. But legislators in 2005, anticipating an expensive GOP primary between Charlie Crist and Tom Gallagher, increased the amount of money that candidates could spend and remain eligible.
Florida’s taxpayers forked over $11 million during the 2006 election, including $3.3 million that went to Crist. Sink accepted a little over $1 million for her successful campaign for chief financial officer, while McCollum received more than $897,000. Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson received nearly $394,000.
Under existing law, candidates can receive matching money for contributions they receive after Sept. 1, 2009. Corporate contributions, as well as contributions from out-of-state residents, are not eligible for a match. Candidates can only receive matching money for the first $250 they receive from a donor.
The state begins distributing the matching money 32 days before the primary and every week after that for the duration of the campaign.