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State, McCollum abandon legal defense of taxpayer matching money for candidates

TALLAHASSEE — Florida will not appeal a court ruling that struck a key provision of the state's campaign finance law.

The decision Wednesday gave Republican candidate Rick Scott the ability to exceed the state's $24.9 million spending cap in his bid for governor without worries that his leading GOP rival, Bill McCollum, would benefit.

Scott's campaign bought another $2 million in television advertisements for the coming week, bringing its total spending to more than $25 million.

A week ago, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals granted Scott an injunction to block the so-called millionaire's provision, which would have given McCollum state money to match every dollar Scott spent above the cap.

The court ruled that the law's attempt to level the playing field was "constitutionally problematic" because it inhibited Scott's free speech and the wealthy former health care executive's ability to fund his campaign.

Florida secretary of state spokeswoman Jennifer Davis said the office would not challenge the decision. "We need some finality to move through the election process," she said.

The appellate court's ardent decision made a rehearing unlikely to succeed. And a similar ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in January protecting political speech made an appeal to the high court seem equally futile.

McCollum campaign spokeswoman Kristy Campbell said they are still considering their options, and given the court's inclination, might ask the judges to strike the state's $500 contribution limit, too.

McCollum's cash-strapped primary campaign needed the money to match Scott's stratospheric spending. With affiliated political committees included, Scott's expenses now top $30 million compared to $10 million for his rival.

McCollum is surviving with a $1.7 million infusion of matching money from taxpayers granted under another provision in the law, and the campaign is expected to receive more later this week.

The money is fueling a nasty ad war.

Scott's latest salvo blasts McCollum for voting for tax increases while in Congress. McCollum's spots link President Barack Obama to Scott for the stimulus money his companies received.

McCollum's only positive ad came early in the campaign. It featured the endorsement of former Gov. Jeb Bush, who is expected to join McCollum as he flies around the state campaigning Monday, the first day of early voting.

John Frank can be reached at jfrank@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

State, McCollum abandon legal defense of taxpayer matching money for candidates 08/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, August 5, 2010 4:02pm]

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