Plan to end Florida campaign financing draws criticism

By Troy Kinsey, Capitol Bureau Reporter
Last Updated: Tuesday, August 29, 2017, 11:02 PM EDT

A proposal by Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran to eliminate the state's public campaign financing system is drawing criticism from government watchdog groups.

  • Florida house speaker wants to end public campaign financing
  • Program was devised 30 years ago to limit role of outside money

They warn it could strengthen the influence of deep-pocketed special interests in statewide elections.

Corcoran, a Land O'Lakes Republican, is calling on the Constitution Revision Commission -- the powerful board empaneled once every 20 years to devise constitutional amendments to put before voters -- to place his proposal on the November 2018 ballot.

"This is a gross waste of taxpayer money and is nothing more than welfare for politicians," Corcoran said of the financing system, which was devised 30 years ago to limit the role of outside money in statewide campaigns by providing public matching funds to candidates who agree to spending limits.

"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," Corcoran said. "This proposal is simply about doing the right thing."

But in a post-Citizens United political environment where candidates are effectively able to raise unlimited amounts of money, the public financing system amounts to one of the last bulwarks against unlimited spending.

"I question why Speaker Corcoran is even advancing this idea," said Ben Wilcox of Integrity Florida, a watchdog group that has investigated the intersecting worlds of campaign finance and governance.

"That's a bumper sticker slogan that's pretty intellectually dishonest," Wilcox said of the speaker's "welfare for politicians" comment. "It fails to look at the goals and the purposes of public campaign financing, and that is to hold down the cost of campaigns and provide alternatives to deep-pocket special interest donors."

Perhaps not coincidentally, Corcoran has raised millions from special interests for a potential gubernatorial bid. Were he to win the Republican nomination, he could appear on the ballot alongside his proposed amendment, potentially boosting his prospects.

Personal politics aside, however, the speaker is casting his assault on the public campaign financing system as a function of a changing political environment where even an ill-funded underdog, armed with a Twitter account, can beat a deep-pocketed favorite.

"Public financing of statewide campaigns has not achieved any of its purported goals, it has been rendered obsolete by changes in technology, and it is a misuse of taxpayer money that should be spent on real state priorities," Corcoran wrote the Constitution Revision Commission last week.