Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Politics

Richard Corcoran takes aim at public financing of campaigns

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TALLAHASSEE — House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, may not be running for governor — not yet anyway — but his latest idea will get the attention of those who are.

On Wednesday, Corcoran called on the Constitution Revision Commission to put a ballot question to voters in 2018 to repeal Florida's system of partial public financing of statewide elections.

Corcoran, who appointed nine of the CRC's 37 members, says public campaign financing is "a gross waste of taxpayer money and is 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."

It's not a new idea. Voters rejected a similar proposal in 2010. Corcoran's mission looks clear: He won't take public money, and he doesn't want his opponents taking it, either.

The leading Republican candidate for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, recently told the Times/Herald that he has not decided whether to accept public matching money in 2018. Putnam did take public funds in both of his races for agriculture commissioner in 2010 and 2014, in which he won easily. Candidates must decide yes or no next June, when they file papers to qualify for the ballot.

Asked for a response to Corcoran's proposal, Putnam's spokeswoman, Amanda Bevis said in an email: "Adam Putnam opposes the use of taxpayer dollars for political campaigns, but the liberal, billionaire activists, like Tom Steyer and George Soros, will stop at nothing to buy the Florida Governor's office for the Democratic Party, and it is critical that campaigns compete on a level playing field."

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater is also running. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, has been talking with potential donors and party members as he explores a possible run. Corcoran, who has hired a pollster, media advisers and raised nearly $3 million through a political committee he controls, says he'll decide by March when the next legislative session ends.

One of Corcoran's CRC appointees, Republican Sen. Tom Lee of Thonotosassa, plans to run for the Cabinet post of chief financial officer next year, meaning he could accept public money. If Corcoran's proposal were to reach the ballot, it would require approval of 60 percent of voters and would not affect the 2018 race.

Candidates for governor and Cabinet who agree to abide by spending limits ($2 for each registered voter, or about $26 million) can get state money that matches every individual contribution of up to $250 from Florida residents.

Florida's public campaign financing system is in the state Constitution, but it's not well-known to the public, and taxpayers often are surprised to learn that it's their money that helps pay for negative mail pieces and personal attacks in 30-second TV ads. (The total cost in 2014 in all races was $4.4 million, and Putnam got about $459,000).

Public financing was begun in the 1990s by that era's CRC and approved by voters at the urging of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, in an effort to blunt the growing influence of special interest money.

It has been used by both Democrats and Republicans since then, though some candidates, such as governors Jeb Bush and Rick Scott, have succeeded without it.

Contact Steve Bousquet at sbousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

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