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 whose office oversees elections.
The legal action has a political dimension as well, because it highlights how McCollum is seeking tax funds 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 follows a similar case in Arizona, where a trial court ruled that matching funds violate the First Amendment. An appeals court reversed the decision, and the U.S. Supreme Court, without making a ruling, has blocked further disbursements of matching state money.
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.
In response to the lawsuit, McCollum's campaign issued a prepared statement citing the Medicare fraud case, 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.''
Florida voters added the public campaign system to the state Constitution in 1998. A proposed amendment to the Constitution on the Nov. 2 ballot asks voters to abolish the system.