Politics

Charlie Crist about to get millions in campaign subsidy

 
 
Former governor Charlie Crist will get millions in campaign cash under the state’s public campaign financing program created to help low-budget candidates counter big-pocketed opponents.
Former governor Charlie Crist will get millions in campaign cash under the state’s public campaign financing program created to help low-budget candidates counter big-pocketed opponents.
Peter Andrew Bosch / Miami Herald staff

More information

Public financing through the years

Florida created a system of partial public financing of statewide election campaigns in 1986 to help candidates for governor and the Cabinet be more competitive against better-funded opponents. Candidates who abide by a self-imposed spending cap of about $25 million are eligible for matching state money for contributions of $250 or less from Florida residents. Larger contributions are also matched up to a maximum of $250.

1990: Democrat Lawton Chiles beats Republican Gov. Bob Martinez by capping individual donations at $100, as donors “bundle” many more checks from business associates and relatives, much of it matchable by taxpayers.

1994: Chiles narrowly wins re-election over Republican Jeb Bush, who blows the spending cap in the race’s final weeks, making Chiles eligible for a windfall of nearly $3 million. In two future races, the Republican Party covers much of Bush’s overhead, reducing his rivals’ matching dollars.

1994: Sandra Mortham, a Pinellas legislator, wins the race for Secretary of State — then still an elected post — and uses the catch phrase “welfare for politicians” to describe public financing. She, too, takes the money, producing a Times editorial headlined “Mortham’s Campaign on Welfare.”

Source: Times research


Herald/Times Tallahassee Bureau

Democrat Charlie Crist says he can’t raise nearly as much money as Republican Gov. Rick Scott, but he can close the gap thanks to a big subsidy from Florida taxpayers.

Crist soon will get his first infusion of millions in campaign cash under the state’s public campaign financing program, created to help low-budget candidates counter big-money opponents as long as they abide by a self-imposed spending cap of about $25 million.

Candidates for governor and three Cabinet offices who agree to limit spending by their own campaigns are eligible for matching money. The state matches contributions of $250 or less from Florida residents, and Crist has far more small donors than Scott.

Crist says more than 30,000 people have donated $100 or less to his campaign. Larger donations are also matched up to $250 each.

“I think it’s a good idea, because the public needs to be involved in our government, our democracy,” Crist said at a campaign stop in Tampa on Saturday.

The first checks will go out Friday, but the Division of Elections said Crist won’t get any money because he hasn’t filed the necessary paperwork, which his campaign said is extensive.

Crist’s campaign expects its first matching check to arrive Aug. 1 and be in the range of $1 million.

The infusion will help Crist cut into Scott’s commanding fundraising advantage. Since Crist entered the race in November, his campaign and political committees have raised about $14.4 million and spent about $3.6 million, according to the latest campaign finance report. In that time, Scott has raised $23.7 million and spent $22 million.

Since the governor had more than $17 million cash on hand before Crist got in, Scott’s committees had about $8 million more than Crist’s as of Friday.

Scott’s overall advantage is likely even greater because the Republican Party of Florida is starting to flex its financial muscle to aid Scott.

Scott opposes public financing, and in his 2010 race, paid for mostly with his own money, he said it was wrong for taxpayers to pay for campaigns when the state desperately needed money. He won a federal suit that blocked primary opponent Bill McCollum from getting a dollar-for-dollar match if Scott exceeded the spending cap.

Scott claimed it violated his First Amendment rights for his opponent to benefit from his own spending, and a federal appeals court agreed.

But the state’s matching program for small-dollar donations is still in effect and every major statewide candidate will take advantage of it this fall except for Scott, who’s expected to spend up to $100 million in pursuit of a second term.

Said Scott campaign spokesman Greg Blair: “Charlie Crist is a millionaire who already receives a taxpayer-funded pension, and now he wants to make Florida taxpayers fund his campaign. I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.”

Reminded that Scott’s fellow Republicans will receive the same subsidies Crist is seeking, Blair said: “I have nothing to add.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, all of whom are Republicans heavily favored to win re-election, have applied for matching funds.

As a Republican state senator in the 1990s, Crist called taxpayer-funded campaigns “wrong” and sponsored a bill to abolish the program. But his bill failed in the 1997 session when Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater sided with Democrats to force a tie vote that continued public financing.

Crist, who also took matching money as a Republican in three previous statewide races, brushed off Scott’s criticism: “Scott criticizes me for crossing the street, for crying out loud.”

Public financing of election campaigns was pushed by Democrats in the 1980s who said it would rein in the rising costs of campaigns and limit the power of political action committees. That didn’t happen.

In fact, Crist’s decision to accept public money as a Democrat was a no-brainer because he, like Scott, has a separate political committee that can accept donations in any amount.

Contributions to that committee, Charlie Crist for Florida, do not count against the $25 million spending limit required to be eligible for matching funds.

Scott’s 2010 Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, did not take public financing, a decision some Democrats have second-guessed.

Sink lost to Scott by 61,550 votes out of more than 5.3 million cast statewide.

The state’s current handbook for candidates says of public financing: “In 1986, the Florida Legislature found that the costs of running an effective campaign for statewide office had reached a level tending to discourage persons from running for office” and that public financing was created “to protect the effective competition by candidates.”

Ron Meyer, a Democrat, authority on campaign finance and a lobbyist for the statewide teachers’ union, said Scott’s ability to write huge checks to his campaign has greatly weakened the impact of public financing.

“The levelness of the playing field is dissipated when you’re dealing with a multi-millionaire candidate who can put in unlimited amounts of his own money,” Meyer said.

Republicans in Tallahassee have tried to abolish public financing without success.

On the same 2010 ballot where Scott defeated Sink, Republicans asked voters to repeal it and even though a majority voted for repeal (52.5 percent), it fell below the 60 percent threshold needed to approve a ballot amendment.

Miami Herald staff writer Marc Caputo and Times staff writer Keeley Sheehan contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850)224-7263 . Follow @stevebousquet.

Read more Florida stories from the Miami Herald

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category