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Scott wins appeal in district court -- throws out McCollum's matching $$$

The 11th District Court of Appeal in Atlanta reversed a Florida court Friday and agreed to Republican Rick Scott's request for a prelliminary injunction halting Florida's public financing law, saying that the provision that allows his opponent to get an excess subsidy of taxpayer dollars violates his 1st Amendment rights.

Writing for the three-judge panel, Circuit Judge William H. Pryor said they agreed with Scott's argument that the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Davis v. Federal Election Commission "requires us to subject the excess spending subsidy to strict scrutiny. We conclude that even if the subsidy encourages participation in the public financing system and indirectly prevents corruption or the appearance of corruption, the excess spending subsidy is not the least restrictive means of doing so.

"Like the district court, we think it is obvious that the subsidy imposes a burden on nonparticipating candidates, like Scott, who spend large sums of money in support of their candidacies."

The decision will put an immediate halt to the matching money Attorney General Bill McCollum thought he was entitled to when his Republican opponent exceeds the state's $24.9 million spending cap, as expected. The numbers are due in today.

 Here's the 45-page ruling: Download Scott's appeal ruling. Some highlights:

"The court rejected the Florida court's conclusion that Florida's public campaign finance system was designed to avoid corruption. "At bottom, the Florida public campaign financing system appears primarily to advantage candidates with little money or who exercise restraint in fundraising. That is, the system levels the electoral playing field, and that purpose is constitutionally problematic."

"...Even if we were certain that the public financing system of Florida furthers an anticorruption interest, we agree that Scott has proved a likelihood that the excess spending subsidy is not the least restrictive means of ncouraging that participation.

"...In sum, Davis requires that Florida justify the excess spending subsidy by establishing that it furthers a compelling state interest. Florida has stated that the excess spending subsidy furthers its anticorruption interest by encouraging participation in its public financing system. Florida has not, however, proved that the excess spending subsidy furthers the anticorruption interest in the least restrictive manner. Scott is likely to prevail on the merits of his claim.

"...No party to this appeal is obviously worse served by a preliminary injunction. On this record, we think that each candidate will speak less if he loses this appeal. Scott will avoid aiding his opponent and McCollum will have less
money to support his campaign. We cannot say that the public has an interest in hearing more or less from either party.We also cannot say that enjoining the subsidy will disrupt the looming election. An injunction would require the Secretary to do nothing and permit Scott and McCollum to carry on campaigning as they have for the last several months."

"...In sum, each candidate stands to suffer if he loses this appeal and it is not obvious who stands to suffer more. The public is similarly harmed to a small degree no matter the outcome, as it is likely to hear less from one or the other candidate, but there is no danger of disrupting the looming election. We cannot say that granting preliminary relief would be unfair to McCollum."