The two Republican candidates running for governor in Florida have decided to accept public matching of campaign contributions, a program long criticized by conservatives as a taxpayer-funded freebie for politicians.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Rep. Ron DeSantis on Thursday officially filed to run for governor's mansion. In doing so, they also submitted paperwork to request state dollars to match campaign contributions of $250 or less from Florida residents.
If the election were today, Putnam would receive more than $1 million and DeSantis would get about $600,000, according to an analysis of campaign finance records. Those numbers are likely to increase significantly in the coming months.
The state matching program was created in 1990 under Gov. Lawton Chiles to help ward off the growth of special interest money in politics and give lesser known candidates a chance to compete.
However, conservatives have consistently called it a waste of taxpayer money and have attempted efforts to kill the program. Voters rejected a referendum to do just that in 2010.
One of the most recent vocal critics is Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who last year called the program "nothing more than welfare for politicians. All it does is protect the insider political class. You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our schoolchildren, first responders or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers."
At the time, Corcoran was a prospective gubernatorial candidate and threatened to push the issue again to the ballot. He has since decided against running for governor and instead endorsed Putnam.
Putnam accepted the money in 2010 and 2014 in his campaigns for agriculture commissioner. Spokeswoman Meredith Beatrice justified the decision by saying Putnam "will not disarm the campaign against the likes of multi-billionaire (Democrat) Jeff Greene who has millions to fund his own campaign, putting the future of our state at great risk."
Through his campaign and political committee, Putnam has raised $30 million so far thanks to contributions from some of the state's largest businesses and industries. DeSantis, meanwhile, has brought in about $10 million, including large contributions from billionaire conservative kingmakers.
DeSantis spokesman Dave Vasquez did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Two of the five Democratic candidates for governor have also requested matching funds: former Rep. Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. Greene and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, both independently wealthy, did not.
Meanwhile, Orlando-area businessman Chris King has not yet filed to run. The deadline is Friday.
In his two campaigns, Gov. Rick Scott did not apply for public matching.
Candidates for governor and Cabinet who take the money also agree to abide by spending limits — $2 for each registered voter, or about $26 million.
Times staff writer Langston Taylor contributed a lot to this report.