Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Rick Scott sues to block public funds from going to rival campaigns

TALLAHASSEE — Rick Scott, the deep-pocketed Republican front-runner for governor, is suing the state in an effort to prevent his personal wealth from helping his primary rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Scott filed suit in U.S. District Court in Tallahassee Wednesday challenging part of Florida's public campaign financing system known as the "millionaire's amendment."

The provision lets traditional candidates such as McCollum get tax dollars to subsidize their campaigns when they are being vastly outspent by independently wealthy candidates like Scott.

Scott must agree to limit his campaign expenditures to $24.9-million in the primary or else the state will give McCollum $1 for every dollar Scott spends over the cap. As Scott inches ever closer to that total, his lawsuit argues that the cap is a violation of his First Amendment rights because it restricts his free speech by benefiting his opponents' speech.

"The (U.S.) Supreme Court has concluded that a Legislature cannot enact laws that provide benefits to a candidate's opponents triggered by the candidate's exercise of the right to use funds for campaign speech," the suit says.

"The Supreme Court has also consistently concluded that restrictions on a candidate's ability to spend his own funds, or funds raised from others, cannot be justified either by the government's interest in reducing corruption or … equalizing the relative financial resources of candidates."

Scott sued the Secretary of State, a state agency, and the case has political implications beyond the lawsuit itself. It literally could put McCollum, the state's chief legal officer, on the defensive, because the attorney general routinely represents state agencies in court.

The legal action also highlights how McCollum is seeking help from taxpayers to fortify his campaign at a time when he is calling for fiscal austerity, budget cuts and a two-year freeze on local property tax increases on the campaign trail.

Scott wants an expedited hearing and a court injunction to block McCollum and the leading Democratic candidate for governor, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, from getting state matching money. The checks are scheduled to start flowing July 23.

Scott's lawsuit comes on the heels of a similar case in Arizona, McCormish v. Bennett, where a trial court ruled that matching funds are a violation of the First Amendment. An appeals court reversed the decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court, without making a ruling in the case, issued an order blocking further disbursements of state matching money to candidates.

McCollum cannot compete with Scott's millions, so his allies have opened up two electioneering groups that can raise and spend unlimited sums to attack Scott for his troubled tenure as CEO of a major hospital chain that paid a $1.7-billion fine for Medicare fraud. Those two groups are the Sunshine State Freedom Fund and the Florida First Initiative.

"I decided to solicit for the Florida First Initiative to at least have some ways of offsetting the a little bit of the tremendous amount of personal wealth that is being put in here far more than I'll ever spend in a campaign for governor, or could," McCollum said Tuesday.

In response to the lawsuit, McCollum's campaign issued a prepared statement citing the Medicare fraud case against Scott's business, and saying: "Rick Scott will have his day in court, but all this legal wrangling just proves what we already know. No amount of money — not even the more than 20 million Rick Scott has spent to date — will cover his record of fraud, hypocrisy and doublespeak.''

Scott's lawsuit names as the defendant Dawn Roberts, the interim Secretary of State whose office oversees elections. Roberts' spokeswoman, Jennifer Davis, said the agency had not yet seen the complaint.

Davis said the Secretary of State is required by law to employ the attorney general as its counsel in lawsuits. But if a conflict of interest arises, the agency can hire outside counsel.

Florida voters added the public campaign system to the state Constitution in 1998. Supporters, mainly Democrats, said the taxpayer subsidies would neutralize the influence of special interests and give low-budget candidates a better chance to vie for support, but opponents derided the system as "welfare for politicians" and a waste of tax dollars.

A proposed amendment to the Constitution on the Nov. 2 ballot, advanced by the Republican-controlled Legislature, asks voters to abolish the system permanently.

Rick Scott sues to block public funds from going to rival campaigns 07/07/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, July 7, 2010 10:14pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Tampa-based vXchnge secures $200M loan to expand operations


    TAMPA — Tampa-based vXchnge, which operates data centers in 14 metro areas, has secured a loan for roughly $200 million for "major expansions and enhancements."

    Tampa-based vXchnge, a data center provider, secured a $200 million loan. Pictured is CEO Keith Olsen. | [Courtesy of vXchnge]
  2. Allegiant flight makes emergency landing in California after smoke fills cabin


    FRESNO, Calif. — Smoke filled the cabin of an Allegiant Air jet after it landed at a California airport on Monday, forcing coughing passengers to cover their faces with shirts and firefighters to board the plane, authorities said.

    This frame from mobile phone video shows smoke inside an Allegiant Air jet after it landed at Fresno Yosemite International Airport in California's Central Valley, Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. Smoke filled the cabin of an Allegiant Air jet after it landed at the airport on Monday, forcing coughing passengers to cover their faces with shirts and firefighters to board the plane, authorities said. Allegiant said no passengers or any of the six crew members were injured. [Estevan Moreno via AP]
  3. Forecast: Sunny skies, drier air dominate throughout Tampa Bay region


    Drier air continues to filter into the Tampa Bay area on Tuesday, with clear skies and a slight chance of light rain during the afternoon.

    Tampa Bay's 7 day forecast. [WTSP]
  4. Florida education news: Makeup days, graduation honors, sex education and more


    MAKEUP DAYS: Hillsborough County schools will eliminate four early release days to meet minimum state time per course, after missing seven days because of Hurricane Irma. • Indian …

    School classrooms are back up and running after Hurricane Irma. Districts are now setting makeup schedules for time missed.
  5. Rick and Tom podcast: Bucs' Gerald McCoy frustrated with disrespectful fans


    Rick Stroud and Tom Jones discuss Gerald McCoy's latest comments on disrespectful fans who attack his teammates, Donald Trump, protests by DeSean Jackson and Mike Evans, and his respect for the …

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive tackle Gerald McCoy (93) warms up before an NFL game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn., on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017.