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Corcoran: Let voters end taxpayer-financed election campaigns

Corcoran0213_8colHouse 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.

Corcoran called on the Constitution Revision Commission Wednesday 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 school children, first responders or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers."

It's not a new idea and it's not an easy sell. Florida voters rejected a similar question in 2010.

Corcoran's mission here looks fairly apparent. He won't accept public money and he doesn't want anyone else to, either.

The leading Republican candidate for governor, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, recently told the Times/Herald that he has not yet decided whether to accept public matching money in 2018. Putnam did take public funds in both of his races for ag 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.

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater is also running. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, has been meeting with potential donors and party members as he explores whether to 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 next March.

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 campaign 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 is 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 was $4.4 million).

Public financing was begun in the 1990s by former Gov. Lawton Chiles, a Democrat, in an effort to counteract the growing influence of special interest money in elections. It has been used by both Democrats and Republicans since then, though some candidates have succeeded without it. Gov. Rick Scott won a partial court victory when he challenged the constitutionality of the system in 2010.

Read Corcoran's letter here.