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GOP legislator: End welfare for politicians

A year after Florida taxpayers shelled out $11.13 million to pay for political campaigns, one GOP legislator wants to finally end the practice.

Rep. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican, has filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would ask voters to repeal the current provision that allows candidates for statewide office to match individual donations with matching money from the state. Initially the idea behind public financing was to require candidates to abide by spending limits in order to qualify for taxpayer help. But in 2005, the GOP-controlled Legislature overhauled the system so that candidates could raise large amounts of money and still get money from the state.

"We have no business financing political campaigns,'' said Hays, who maintains that many citizens are unaware that tax dollars are being spent on statewide campaigns. He said that Sen. Steve Oelrich, a Gainesville Republican, has agreed to sponsor the measure in the Senate.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush derided Florida's public campaign financing as "welfare for politicians" and refused to accept the money from the state. That didn't stop other Republicans from taking the money last year. Gov. Charlie Crist accepted the most in public financing, receiving $3.3 million from taxpayers. Attorney General Bill McCollum received nearly $900,000 while Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson accepted $393,000. Democrats also accepted the money. Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink took in just over $1 million, while former U.S. Rep. Jim Davis accepted $1.82 million in his bid for governor.

"Just think how much more good that $11 million could have been used for if it was spent on education or rehabilitating prisoners or helping foster care children,'' said Hays.