TALLAHASSEE — Bill McCollum picked up a hefty check from taxpayers Friday — a financial lifeline for his campaign for governor struggling to keep pace with his free-spending primary opponent Rick Scott.
McCollum's $1.3 million check was one of seven doled out to statewide candidates in four races under a public financing formula that matches up to $250 that each candidate receives from a Florida resident.
So far, taxpayers have paid out $3.1 million, enough to pay the average annual salaries for 66 experienced teachers.
The cash infusion is a timely boost for McCollum, the state's attorney general. Fundraising totals released Friday show he was down to about $540,000, about half of the cost of a week's worth of major TV advertising.
Scott, a former health care executive, has poured $22.9 million of his money into the campaign, isn't taking public money and has sued to block McCollum from getting public financing.
Noting that his own polling shows him tied with Scott, McCollum said, "Considering the differential in money, we're in pretty good shape."
The Scott camp pointed to several public polls showing him ahead by double digits and claimed McCollum's "snout is deep in the public trough, scarfing up funds that could be used for other public projects."
McCollum's campaign says he is following the letter and the spirit of campaign finance laws, and Scott is being disingenuous by suing and trying to change the rules in the middle of the race.
The major Democrat in the governor's race, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, has said she will abide by the system's $24.9 million spending limit, but has not yet decided whether to accept public matching money.
Sink has raised $7.3 million in contributions and has $5.7 million in the bank. Based on McCollum's total, she could be in line for more than $1 million in matching money.
Friday's checks include matching funds for contributions from September 2009 through March 31. Next week, candidates will receive another check for contributions from the latest fundraising period that ended July 16.
Independent candidate Lawton "Bud" Chiles III is not yet eligible for the first round of checks because he entered the race in June.
Chiles, who is limiting contributions to $250 and is not accepting money from corporations or political action committees, has raised $54,000. He also donated $25,000 of his own money, the maximum allowed under the public finance system.
Scott is poised to sail past the $24.9 million spending limit covered by another part of the public financing law. Once he breaks that cap, his rivals would receive a dollar-for-dollar match on everything he spends over that limit, unless he prevails in his court challenge.
In the attorney general's race, on the Democratic side, Sen. Dave Aronberg of Greenacres raised $264,000 last quarter, leaving him with $658,000 in hand. His primary opponent, Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, has $665,000 left to spend after raising $164,000 last quarter. Gelber got $350,000 in public financing.
Former Hillsborough County prosecutor Pam Bondi leads the three-way GOP race with $400,000 in the bank after raising $192,000. Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp took in $143,000 this quarter and has a total of $316,000. Holly Benson raised $152,000 and has $274,000 in hand.
In public financing, Bondi pulled down $246,000, Kottkamp collected $259,000 and Benson got $249,000.
In the race for chief financial officer, Democrat Loranne Ausley raised $202,000. Her $507,000 in the bank still trails Republican Jeff Atwater's $2.1 million. Atwater, the Senate president from North Palm Beach, raised $246,000 last quarter. Atwater also got $492,000 in matching funds.
Adam Putnam, the GOP candidate for agriculture commissioner, has $1.3 million to spend after taking in $205,000. Putnam also got a $317,000 matching funds check. Democrat Scott Maddox raised $100,000 and has $394,000 left to spend.