Florida Campaign Matching Funds Targeted

TALLAHASSEE — A proposal began moving forward Tuesday in the Florida Senate that would ask voters to ditch a program that has given more than $33 million in state matching money to gubernatorial and Cabinet candidates over four recent election cycles.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee voted 4-2 on Tuesday to advance a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 1114), filed by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, that seeks to do away with a matching-funds program that voters approved in 1998. The committee also voted 4-2 to approve an accompanying bill (SB 1116).

“This is money coming out of the general revenue,” Hutson said. “I believe we should put the question back to the voters to see if they would like us to spend general revenue on things other than advertising for statewide office.”

Under the program, statewide candidates can receive matches for individual contributions of $250 or less. In exchange, candidates agree to abide by certain campaign expenditure limits. Matching funds are not available for contributions to political committees or outside of statewide races.

When created, the program was promoted as a way to reduce the influence of big-money contributors by helping underfunded candidates compete in costly statewide elections. But critics have long described it as welfare for politicians.

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A 2010 ballot proposal to eliminate the program failed when it got 52.5 percent of the vote, short of the required 60 percent for approval.

Opposing the proposal, the Rev. Marcus McCoy of Orlando, faith outreach director for the group Equal Ground, said public financing encourages a more diverse pool of candidates.

“We believe offering public financing ensures not only the well-connected and rich have an opportunity to seek elected office,” McCoy told the committee.

In 2010, the state gave $6.06 million in matching funds to 10 candidates, with the majority of the money going to candidates running for the Cabinet posts of agriculture commissioner, chief financial officer and attorney general.

The 2014 cycle saw the amount drop to $4.3 million, with the governor’s race drawing the majority of the funding even though then-Gov. Rick Scott didn’t draw from the program as he ran for a second term.

The governor’s contest accounted for 82 percent of the $9.85 million distributed in 2018, with Gov. Ron DeSantis the top recipient at $3.2 million.

DeSantis’ total grew to $7.3 million in his 2022 re-election bid, as the governor’s race accounted for 93 percent of the $13.015 million in matching-funds given out. Charlie Crist, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, picked up $3.89 million from the state in 2022.

If Hutson’s proposal is approved by voters in November, a Senate staff analysis said the program might continue to exist during the 2026 elections, when the governor’s office and all three Cabinet positions will be on the ballot.

“The first year of this anticipated cost avoidance would occur in Fiscal Year 2028-2029,” the analysis said.

A House version of Hutson’s proposal had not been filed as of Tuesday morning.

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