The chief financial officer, or the self-titled “business manager for the state,” oversees a variety of offices, mainly handling the state’s finances and serving as a trustee of the state retirement fund.
The race for the seat — currently held by Republican Jimmy Patronis — could be important to the Democratic party, which has not won a statewide office since Alex Sink was elected CFO in 2006. She launched an unsuccessful campaign for governor in 2010, and was succeeded in her role by Republican Jeff Atwater.
So what exactly does the CFO do?
Anna Farrar, a spokeswoman for the office, said the biggest undertaking of the CFO is the insurance and consumer services piece, which serves to answer questions from residents about anything from investments to insurance fraud. The office also serves as the custodian for unclaimed money across the state.
Current CFO Jimmy Patronis is just the fourth person to fill the role, which was created in 2002 to consolidate state offices related to financial services. He oversees more than 2,000 employees across 13 divisions.
The offices range from the state’s accounting, investment, deferred compensation and risk management programs to agencies overseeing insurance agencies, funeral homes and cemeteries. The CFO’s office licenses insurance agencies and serves as the state fire marshal.
As one of the three elected members of the Florida cabinet in addition to the governor, the CFO serves alongside the attorney general and commissioner of agriculture and consumer services. The cabinet officers, including the CFO, work with the governor on matters such as the purchase of land, clemency and law enforcement. The CFO makes about $128,972 annually.
In addition to managing the day-to-day finances of the state, whoever ends up in the seat will be tasked with overseeing a multiyear overhaul of the state’s 30-year-old financial management system. The CFO also handles about $1 billion in unclaimed property from dormant bank accounts, unclaimed insurance settlements and even watches, jewelry, coins and other miscellaneous items from abandoned safe deposit boxes. Unclaimed money is deposited into a fund for public education, but citizens have the right to claim their property any time.
Patronis is running as the sort-of-incumbent on the Republican ticket in a campaign promising support for first responders, identity protection and fiscal accountability.
He was appointed to the role by his longtime friend, Gov. Rick Scott, after Atwater resigned in 2017. Because Atwater’s term technically ends this year, it creates a rare open seat for the office.
Juan Peñalosa, executive director of the Florida Democratic Party, says the opportunity could be a win for Democrats.
“For the first time, our Democratic nominees are all capable of winning as individuals,” he said.
On the Democratic ticket for CFO is Jeremy Ring, a former Broward County state senator and ex-Yahoo! executive who has promised to prioritize Florida’s retirement system and insurance rates while “growing the innovation economy.”
Patronis and Ring have run into some tension along the campaign trail, mainly when Patronis accused Ring of hiring a political researcher to access his driving records.
Patronis called the candidate “Reckless Ring” and said the breach was “disturbing.”
State investigators found that the researcher did access confidential information on Patronis but that the actions were not illegal. Despite Patronis’ campaign pointing at Ring for the breach, the Democratic candidate was not mentioned in the investigation.
“It sounds like the Patronis campaign is admitting that the only fraud committed here was when CFO Patronis used taxpayer resources for political activities and then tried to cover it up until the press caught him red-handed,” Ring said then.
He was referring to a June story first reported by Politico, which revealed that Patronis crashed a state-issued car on his way to his political consultant’s office last year.
Patronis also did not reimburse the state for $4,015.62 until Politico ran the story. It is illegal to drive a state-issued car for personal or political use. A spokesperson for Patronis’ office said his payment was for “wear and tear” on the vehicle.
Ring, of Parkland, has criticized Patronis and said he’s lied before in attacks against Ring.
“You can attack with the truth, you can attack with a kernel of truth or you can attack with a complete lie,” Ring said. “It’s fine, it’s politics. But it didn’t make sense.”
He wants to make Florida an innovation hub “like California and Massachusetts.”
“I have a concept of how we could take money from the retirement system to grow our big companies as well as grow our technology and innovation economy,” he said. “Kids in the state of Florida can grow up and want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Jobs. They want to innovate.”
Ring, whose net worth is a reported $5.1 million, has put $194,000 of his own money into his campaign. He says his experience running a large-scale enterprise and full-time commitment to campaigning makes him uniquely qualified for the job.
Patronis says his experience in the role already shows his commitment to the people of Florida. Since he became CFO, 885 people have been arrested for insurance fraud, and $10 billion have been paid down in state debt.
“I take my job seriously as the fiscal watchdog for taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I fight insurance fraud and oversee insurance agents to protect Floridians.”
This story was updated to clarify the nature of a payment Patronis made to the state for use of a state-owned vehicle.