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Judge strikes down Florida campaign finance matching law

TALLAHASSEE — A Florida federal judge has struck down a provision of state campaign finance law that attempted to negate an advantage for millionaire candidates like Rick Scott by providing matching tax dollars to their opponents.

The decision of U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle parrots Monday's 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against Arizona's campaign finance matching law.

The Florida ruling, which had been expected in light of the Supreme Court decision, is a late but important win for now Gov. Scott, who brought the lawsuit during his Republican primary against Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum.

The provision of the law limited Scott's campaign expenditures to $24.9 million in the primary. For every $1 Scott spent over the limit, McCollum would have received a $1 match in taxpayer funding.

Scott argued that the cap was a violation of his First Amendment rights because it restricts his free speech by benefiting his opponents' speech. He won a temporary injunction that prevented McCollum from getting taxpayer assistance in the primary, but the case was not resolved.

The cap wasn't an issue in the general election because Democrat Alex Sink, like Scott, decided to forgo public financing.

The Florida decision does not affect the other major component of the state's public-financing system, which provides matching dollars for contributions made by Florida residents.

"Gov. Scott views this as another big victory for taxpayers, who will no longer be forced by politicians to foot the bill for their attack ads and campaign costs," said spokesman Brian Burgess.

It also could be a big victory should Scott run for re-election in 2014, since he will not have to worry about spending limits or taxpayers help for his opponents.

During the 2010 election, Scott, a former health care executive, spent more than $70 million of his own money. He reported a net worth of $218 million in forms filed with the state last year, though the figure is believed to be low because it does not include his wife's assets or the worth of his family's limited partnership.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2273.

Judge strikes down Florida campaign finance matching law 06/29/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 29, 2011 10:20pm]
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