Monday, November 20, 2017
Editorials

Editorial: Don't kill Florida's public campaign financing

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With huge checks from special interests flowing into political committees, Florida needs significant campaign finance reform to amplify the voices of voters who have less to spend. Yet House Speaker Richard Corcoran wants to go in the opposite direction and kill the state's modest program that uses public money to match small contributions to statewide candidates. It's a cynical attempt by a powerful Tallahassee insider to exploit access to big money and further silence the voices of Floridians who can't afford to give thousands of dollars to their favorite candidate.

Voters have spoken clearly in support of public campaign financing. The state already had a program before voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1998 that was placed on the ballot by the last Constitution Revision Commission and required the Legislature to fund the program for statewide candidates. In 2010, a constitutional amendment to kill it failed to get the required 60 percent voter approval. And now Corcoran wants the Constitution Revision Commission to put another amendment on the 2018 ballot to try to repeal it. The voters' answer should remain the same.

The concept is simple. The public campaign financing law enables candidates for governor and Cabinet to receive public matching money for contributions of $250 or less if they voluntarily agree to spending limits. The idea is to encourage candidates to reach out to broader groups of voters and to level the playing field just a bit for candidates who aren't independently wealthy or don't have connections to lobbyists. It also amplifies the voices of voters who can make a modest contribution to their favorite candidate. In an era of unlimited contributions to political committees, it's a very modest program.

In fact, Florida spent just $4.4 million on public campaign financing in 2014, a drop in the bucket compared to the state budget that now stands at $82 billion. Corcoran argues the state could better spend the money on public education and other priorities. Yet the Land O'Lakes Republican also supports Gov. Rick Scott's proposed constitutional amendment to make it harder for the Legislature to approve any tax increases. So Corcoran's concern about finding enough money for Florida to adequately meet its needs rings a bit hollow.

It's no surprise Scott supports Corcoran's amendment to repeal public campaign financing. Scott went to federal court to kill a key part of the law in 2010, which enabled candidates who agreed to limit spending to receive a dollar in public matching money for every dollar that their opponents exceeded the spending cap. That enabled Scott to buy the election with $70 million of his own money without fear his opponents could come close to matching his spending.

If Scott and Corcoran were genuinely interested in campaign finance reform, they would enhance public campaign financing rather than try to kill it. They would look for ways to rein in political committees. And the St. Petersburg City Council, which is expected on Sept. 7 to consider placing contribution limits on political committees in city elections, would not be wading into an issue that should be decided by state lawmakers.

The Constitution Revision Commission should not blindly follow Scott and Corcoran and put an amendment on the ballot to repeal public campaign financing. If it does, voters have demonstrated they are more than capable of rejecting this bad idea themselves.

This editorial has been revised to reflect the following correction: The St. Petersburg City Council is expected on Sept. 7 to consider placing contribution limits on political committees in city elections. An editorial Saturday incorrectly described the limits and when they will be considered.

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