Bill McCollum grabs matching funds while preaching austerity

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum says Florida faces such severe budget shortfalls that everybody needs to cut back.

But even as the attorney general touts his plan to freeze tax rates for local governments, he won't forgo hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer money for his campaign.

"There's going to be a $6 billion shortfall — or more with the oil spill — in state government alone," McCollum said in a Political Connections interview airing today on Bay News 9 at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m.

"I want to ask everybody to pull in that belt. Am I going to take some taxpayer-matching funds? Yes, I am, because I've got an opponent now who's a multi-, multimillionaire," McCollum said. "He's spending unlimited wealth, and I'm going to have maybe six or seven million dollars to spend."

A political newcomer with a controversial background, Rick Scott has overtaken McCollum in the polls after spending $16 million on TV and radio ads. McCollum needs every possible dollar and is taking advantage of some politically awkward opportunities, including taxpayer financing and shadowy campaign committees tied to his campaign.

Under Florida's public financing system, candidates who abide by spending limits can receive up to $250 in matching money for each Floridian who contributes. In 2006, Charlie Crist received more than $3.3 million in matching funds, Republican rival Tom Gallagher got $1.3 million, while Democrats Jim Davis and Rod Smith received $1.8 million and $945,000, respectively.

McCollum would receive additional matching money if Scott spends more than $24.9 million. Scott said that his campaign will not break that cap, but might skirt it by using a separate campaign committee to promote his candidacy.

The system was supposed to rein in massive campaign spending and level the playing field, but critics have long derided it as "welfare for politicians." The Republican-controlled Legislature this year put a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot to kill it altogether, but McCollum says he opposes that.

"After 30 years on the government payroll, Bill McCollum cannot find enough Floridians who are enthusiastic about his candidacy, ideas and vision to finance a statewide campaign," said Jen Baker, a spokeswoman for the Rick Scott campaign. "Now he is asking taxpayers to bankroll his inept campaign out of some entitlement to hold onto power."

McCollum also is taking heat for two semi-mysterious and supposedly independent political committees, the Alliance for America's Future and the Florida First Initiative, which have spent about $2 million on TV ads attacking Scott. Though McCollum has solicited contributions for their efforts, his campaign fundraiser is raising money for one of them and his TV buyer is buying their TV time, McCollum says he does not know much about them.

"We don't run them, we don't maintain them, they're not my organizations," he said on Political Connections. "We're not violating the law, and any way we can encourage compliance with it, it will be done."

"Bill McCollum is either lying or has a split personality," Baker said, scoffing at his suggestion that his campaign is unaware of what Florida First Initiative is up to.

McCollum hit Scott over his tenure as chief executive of Columbia/HCA, the health care chain that paid $1.7 billion in fines for Medicare fraud.

"Why would you want somebody to be the governor of Florida who has not been able to run a big company like that any better than that?" he asked.

On TV

Political Connections airs today at 11 a.m. and 8 p.m. on Bay News 9.

Bill McCollum grabs matching funds while preaching austerity 06/19/10 [Last modified: Saturday, June 19, 2010 8:24pm]

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