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Amendment One Would End Florida's Public Campaign Financing

October 11, 2010 | FPR - Under current Florida law, candidates for governor and three other statewide offices have an option to cap their campaign spending. If their opponent then goes over that limit, the candidate who abides by the cap is eligible for matching money from the state. This November, Florida voters will decide whether to eliminate this type of public financing when they cast their ballots on Amendment One, a proposed change to the state constitution.

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If public campaign financing had a poster child, it would be Bob Milligan.  Milligan ran as a Republican for Florida Comptroller in 1994 against incumbent Democrat Gerald Lewis. Lewis was better funded and more politically connected than Milligan, so Milligan turned to $100,000 in matching funds from the state.  

"That gave us enough money to get some good TV and radio in the eleventh hour, leading up to the general election,” Milligan said.

Milligan ended up winning the race, and he became a prime example of how public campaign financing can vault an outsider into statewide office.

The public financing law was in the spotlight this summer during the Republican primary for governor.  Millionaire Rick Scott spent an estimated $50 million to defeat state Attorney General Bill McCollum.  McCollum tried to tap public funds, but the Scott campaign successfully sued to block McCollum from receiving the public match.

Rick Scott's campaign spokesman Joe Kildea says Scott is “very, very opposed” to public funding of political campaigns.

“He supports ending ‘welfare for politicians,’ as Jeb Bush calls, it through Amendment One,” Kildea said.

Some in Florida the state’s public financing system needs to be reformed, not eliminated.

Ben Wilcox with Common Cause Florida says incumbents in the Florida legislature have watered down the current system, making it ineffective.

“In 2005, the legislature dramatically raised the voluntary spending limits that candidates have to agree to before they can receive any public funding,” Wilcox said, “and at least in the governor’s race, the spending limit went from $6 million up to like $24 million, and that really distorted the whole public campaign financing system.”

Some observers note that eliminating taxpayer matches would run against the trend elsewhere in the country.

University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith says states such as North Carolina and Connecticut have added public financing laws in recent years, but those laws are not necessarily the same as what Florida has on the books.

“There are a lot of other types of public financing systems out there that other states are experimenting with,” he said.

 

PROGRAM NOTE:

Tune in to 90.7 WMFE-FM Tuesday morning at 6:35 and 8:35 to learn about Amendment Two, which would give a property tax break to active duty military personnel. 

 

 

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