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Scott, McCollum File and Throw Elbows

Republicans Rick Scott and Bill McCollum threw a few elbows Thursday while filing campaign papers and officially launching what is certain to be a big spending primary contest for governor – with shadowy political groups likely playing a central role.

Scott – known mostly through the $15 million in television ads he’s run over the past nine weeks – was the first to file at the state’s Division of Elections. He was followed a half-hour later by McCollum, who included in his entourage House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, former Rep. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, and Everett Wilkinson, head of the Florida Tea Party, who is endorsing the attorney general.

“It’s going to be a tough race that’s coming along and we know that,” said McCollum, whose earlier dominance in the Republican field has withered under Scott’s television campaign. “But we’re going to win this race and we’re going to govern Florida. It’s a very crucial time for us.”

Scott, in formally entering his first campaign for elected office, stuck to his campaign theme, casting himself as a successful businessman whose lack of political baggage will allow him to overhaul a state government he sees as inefficient and bloated.

“We have got to make dramatic change and we’ve got to quit electing career politicians,” Scott said after submitting his papers and, like McCollum, a check for $7,816.38, six-percent of the job’s annual salary.

The Scott campaign also acknowledged that it was opening a political committee, `Let’s Get To Work,’ a 527 group that will raise money and air television ads supporting the candidate. McCollum has already been the beneficiary of TV spots aired by a pair of 527s, named for the section of the IRS code under which they’re organized.

The Alliance for America’s Future, led by former vice-president Dick Cheney’s daughter, Mary, spent $2 million in spots critical of Scott, and the newly formed Florida First Initiative spent $600,000 on anti-Scott ads that ran through Wednesday. The Florida First group’s spending has been helped by $150,000 pumped into it through another committee led by Cannon called the Florida Liberty Fund.

McCollum, the state’s attorney general, said Thursday that he knows nothing about the committees, other than they are supporting his candidacy. Scott’s campaign, however, produced an e-mail exchange between McCollum campaign supporters that drops the candidate’s name in the Florida First fund-raising effort.
McCollum’s media strategist, Chris Mattola, has worked with both Florida First and the Alliance for America’s Future. Florida First’s officers include Stafford Jones, the Alachua County Republican chairman and a McCollum supporter.

While McCollum’s support from 527s may be rooted in an attempt to counter the massive TV campaign Scott has funded from his own pocket, Scott’s plan to launch a 527 also has its own political strategy.

Scott’s $15 million self-financing is edging close to the $24.9 million limit on spending under the state’s public campaign finance law. Scott said Thursday that he doesn’t intend to top the limit – which would reward McCollum dollar-for-dollar with taxpayer money for the amount Scott exceed’s the ceiling.

McCollum plans to accept public financing for his campaign, while Scott said he will not. But the “Let’s Get To Work” committee would allow Scott to raise extra cash and spend more out of his own pocket on TV spots supporting his campaign, while sidestepping the finance cap.

Speaking to Tallahassee’s Tiger Bay Club after filing his papers, Scott described himself as a political outsider – but his campaign is clearly showing an understanding of the nuances of Florida’s finance laws.

Scott told how he rose from being a truck driver’s son to becoming CEO of Columbia/HCA, which he said was the world’s largest health care provider. He was ousted as head of the company in 1997 and Columbia/HCA later paid $1.7 billion in fines and civil claims to settle a federal investigation in which Scott was never charged or questioned by authorities.

“Our message is a message Floridians want,” Scott said. “They want the message of limited government, they want the message of fiscal responsibility, they want the message of personal freedom…That’s the message we’re selling. And we’re going to keep selling it in every one of our ads.”

Scott said he planned to release an economic plan for Florida in coming weeks, built on proposals to lower taxes and reduce regulation. While he is heavily banking on television spots, Scott said he also has traveled the state extensively in the campaign to where, “By the end, I’ll know every…county’s name.”

McCollum, though, suggested that Scott was not a candidate Floridians should trust.

McCollum said Scott was a hypocrite for pivoting his campaign around his support for strict enforcement of immigration laws and a measure recently approved in Arizona, while he also invested in a company that marketed chiefly to foreign workers in the U.S. looking to send money to their home countries – likely fueling illegal immigration.

McCollum also questioned Scott’s record at Columbia/HCA.

“I can’t see someone like that being elected governor of Florida,” McCollum said.

McCollum, who served 20 years in Congress and twice ran unsuccessfully for U.S. Senate before being elected attorney general in 2006, also downplayed his opponent’s attack on “career politicians.”

“It’s no time for on-the-job training,” McCollum said.

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