Public Financing Upends Governor's Races
By John Gramlich, Staff Writer
Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum's campaign for governor is running on financial fumes, The Miami Herald reported Tuesday (July 13). McCollum — who is facing an independently wealthy opponent, Rick Scott, in the Aug. 24 Republican primary — is counting on public funds to stay afloat, but Scott has filed suit over Florida's public campaign financing scheme to block him from getting them.
The drama is playing out this week in a federal courtroom, where the McCollum campaign revealed in a court filing that it has just $800,000 left in the bank for the next six weeks — or "about a week's worth of television (advertising) in Florida's 10 media markets," The Herald said. A political science professor told the newspaper that McCollum is in "big trouble" politically if the state funds don't come through.
Scott, a former hospital executive, is challenging a provision in state law that "lets traditional candidates tap tax dollars when they are vastly outspent by independently wealthy candidates," The Herald reported. If Scott spends more than $24.9 million in his primary campaign — as he is planning to do — McCollum would be entitled to public funds to help him compete. Scott says the provision — which would give McCollum $1 for every $1 that Scott spends above the $24.9 million cap — violates his First Amendment free-speech rights.
Scott has reason for optimism. Decisions by a federal appeals court in Connecticut on Tuesday and by the U.S. Supreme Court last month are calling similar provisions in state campaign finance systems into question nationally.
Tuesday, a three-judge panel of the 2 nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York struck down a provision in Connecticut law similar to the one Scott is challenging in Florida, finding that Connecticut "cannot give supplemental (financial) grants triggered by an opponent's spending," The Connecticut Mirror reported . The decision comes as another independently wealthy gubernatorial candidate — Republican Tom Foley — is trying to prevent his primary opponent, Lieutenant Governor Michael Fedele, from tapping into taxpayer dollars to stay competitive with him. (For more on Tuesday's action in Connecticut, visit Stateline 's Connecticut page .)
The New York Times editorial board assailed the decision as a win for millionaires and a loss for democracy, predicting that similar rulings could come down elsewhere soon. "Campaign finance systems may soon be left with only one tool to keep nonwealthy candidates competitive: matching small donations at high rates," The Times said. "That, of course, will keep such candidates desperately busy raising money, while their rich opponents saturate the airwaves with commercials explaining how passionately they understand the needs of the ordinary American."
The flurry of recent activity follows a U.S. Supreme Court decision last month to halt matching funds for candidates in Arizona, until the justices can hear a lawsuit relating to those funds. The ruling "will cut millions of dollars from the campaigns of some of the Republican candidates for governor and attorney general," The Arizona Republic reported ; Governor Jan Brewer is among the candidates affected by the ruling, although two of her primary opponents have suspended their campaigns since the first court decision was announced..