(The argument, translated.)
May it please the court! Your honors, Rick Scott here, a Republican candidate for governor of Florida. I'm asking this federal appeals court to throw out part of Florida's "public financing" for political candidates.
The way it works in Florida, your honors, is when the state declares that I have spent "too much" of my own money to get elected governor, then the government starts giving more money to my opponent!
That's right. Once I crack the level of about $25 million, then the state will start matching me dollar for dollar and give it to my Republican primary opponent, Bill McCollum. This "excess subsidy" for politicians is downright unconstitutional. It violates my First Amendment rights.
Americans have the right to "put our money where our mouths are." All of us are free to spend money on causes we support, political or otherwise. It is well established that money is free speech. Especially in politics.
But under Florida's setup, as soon as I have spent this magic number on my own free speech, the government steps in and starts paying my opponent! Florida is punishing me for spending my own money. I've even had to scale back to try to delay it — it has a clear chilling effect on my right to exercise free speech.
To infringe on the First Amendment like this, the government has to have a really good reason. But it doesn't.
Is this intended to fight corruption by special interests? It's my own money. The courts have said that a fellow can't "corrupt himself."
Is it supposed to create a "level playing field"? That is not a legitimate government interest, the courts have ruled.
My opponent, Bill McCollum, is still perfectly entitled to matching funds under Florida's system, up to the $25 million limit — if he can raise enough money in the free market. He is not hurt in any way. But I am.
Courts are already throwing out these kinds of laws in other states. The state of Florida should not be allowed to decide when I have spent "too much" money, and start propping up my opponent. It is un-American, it is unfair, and it is unconstitutional. I ask you to overturn this part of Florida's public-financing scheme.
• • •
Your honors, Howard here in defense of the law. Howdy.
In order to argue about whether any law that infringes on the First Amendment is "justified," we first have to agree that it infringes on the First Amendment!
So, in the first place …
Mr. Scott's First Amendment rights are not reduced in any way.
Nope. He can spend as much as he wants. He can spend $50 million, $100 million. He can campaign. He can advertise. He can tour. He can stump. He can hire skywriters, circuses, dancers and jugglers. He can buy every billboard and TV station in the state.
Mr. Scott claims to be "constrained" because he slowed down as he approached the $25 million spending limit. This is nonsense. The fact that he voluntarily chose to reduce his spending was purely a tactical (and temporary!) decision. No government or law forced him or required him to do it.
Since Mr. Scott's right to free speech has not been violated, we never need get to the argument about whether Florida has a "compelling" reason for its system. And yet, it should be noted, a lower federal judge has already upheld it on these grounds: Florida has a low limit on contributions; this makes up for that state-imposed hardship on "non-self-financing" candidates who are not lucky enough to be as rich as Scott.
The people of Florida have decided that money alone cannot buy every election, or else every election would simply be sold to the highest bidder. The people of Florida are entitled to set this policy. Florida's system should be upheld in its entirety.