A federal appeals court’s decision late last week effectively blocked Florida Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum from receiving matching public funds for every dollar beyond $24.9 million spent by his self-financed opponent.
August 2, 2010
By The Associated Press
ATLANTA —The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta on July 30 issued a preliminary injunction to keep the state of Florida from releasing the excess subsidy to McCollum.
Under Florida’s campaign-finance law, a publicly funded candidate can receive extra funds if an opponent who does not participate in the public-financing system spends over a certain amount.
McCollum’s opponent, multimillionaire Rick Scott, is self-funding most of his campaign. Under Florida law, he is allowed to spend up to $24.9 million on his own campaign. But for every dollar he spends beyond that, the state provides a matching dollar for McCollum.
Scott argued that the excess subsidy violates his First Amendment freedom of speech.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle in Tallahassee on July 14 rejected Scott’s attempt to block McCollum from receiving extra state funds for his campaign. Hinkle said Florida’s election statute was designed to encourage voter participation and avoid the appearance of corruption. He said he didn’t want to override it less than six weeks before the state’s Aug. 24 primary.
But Hinkle noted at the time that his decision was a close one on its merits and said it could be reviewed differently by judges in other courts.
A three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit noted Florida’s justification of the excessive-spending provision because of an anti-corruption interest, but concluded that the state “cannot satisfy its burden of establishing that its subsidy furthers that interest in the least restrictive manner possible.”
“It is disappointing Rick Scott keeps trying to change the rules in the middle of an election despite pledging to abide by them,” McCollum campaign manager Matt Williams said. “Ultimately, the decision will be left up to the Department of State, but our campaign is reviewing our legal options.”
The Florida Department of State had no immediate comment and was reviewing the ruling, said spokeswoman Jennifer Krell Davis.
Scott’s campaign applauded the decision.
“Today’s ruling protecting Rick Scott’s constitutional rights is a huge victory for Florida taxpayers,” the campaign said in a statement. “In fact today the court limited Bill McCollum’s pickpocketing of taxpayers to millions of dollars instead of tens of millions of dollars.”
McCollum decided 14 months ago to surrender a second term as attorney general to seek the gubernatorial nomination. He was seen as a prohibitive favorite to win the Republican nomination before Scott emerged from the private sector in mid-April to overhaul McCollum in the polls with a 24-7 statewide advertising blitz introducing himself to voters.
McCollum’s fundraising has dried up as polls show his upstart opponent passing him.
“Regardless of the outcome of this case, we remain very confident we will have the resources necessary to communicate Bill McCollum’s solid conservative record of leadership and his vision for Florida’s future with voters across the state,” Williams said.