End welfare for politicians: Stop subsidizing Florida’s political campaigns | Commentary
The nasty ads. The ugly lies.
Well, I’ll tell you what ticks me off most of all — we pay for it. Florida taxpayers forked over nearly $10 million to Ron DeSantis, Andrew Gillum and other candidates last year — part of this state’s “public campaign finance” act.
You live in a state where politicians rail against welfare for the poor and claim they can’t find enough money to provide services to families of disabled children who are stuck on years-long waiting lists. Yet they help themselves to millions of your tax dollars to finance their campaigns. It should stop. South Florida Republican Rep. Vance Aloupis agrees and has filed legislation that seeks to end this wasteful practice, saying: “Those dollars are better spent on programs for our constituents.”
Amen. You’re free to cut a $500 check to your favorite candidate so that he or she can send out a mailer calling his or her opponent a socialist, fascist or snollygoster. But keep your mitts off the public’s money. The idea behind public financing was noble. It was meant to give candidates who weren’t sucking up special interest money a chance to compete against the big-money guys who were. Except now, the big-money candidates often get the most tax dollars.
In 2018, DeSantis snatched up more tax dollars than anyone else. Despite taking millions from special interests — paving companies, hoteliers, power companies, insurance execs and more — DeSantis also took $3,228,277 of your tax dollars.
One day, the DeSantis campaign took $500,000 from Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife.Two days later, DeSantis took $643,000 from Florida taxpayers … money meant to help candidates who couldn’t otherwise afford to compete in politics.
DeSantis then used that welfare check to rail against wasteful spending. And “socialism.” In the same campaign, Democrat Andrew Gillum also took $2.6 million; Democrat Gwen Graham got $1.2 million; and Republican Adam Putnam got nearly $1.1 million.
To paraphrase Oprah: YOU get a million! And YOU get a million! Everybody gets a million!
Oh, also, we don’t have enough money to help kids with cerebral palsy.
It’s one big money party … where you pick up the tab.
Altogether, the candidates for governor sucked up $8 million. And the candidates for CFO, agriculture commissioner and attorney general took nearly $2 million more.
I bet you can think of a better way to spend that $10 million.
So far, Aloupis has received strong support in his effort to place a measure on the 2020 ballot and ask Florida voters if they want to end this subsidy program.
The proposal has passed unanimously through three different House committees on votes of 15-0, 18-0 and 21-0.
Usually, you can’t get that kind of agreement in Tallahassee that mothers are good or that Satan is bad.
But the measure is moving slower in the Senate. And previous efforts have stalled.
Here’s the bottom line: This push for reform won’t happen unless House Speaker Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano make it a priority. They should.
As I mentioned above, this program started with altruistic intentions. Legislators wanted to limit the influence of big money and give the little guys a chance to compete against self-funded machines. So they created public financing plan, which Florida voters enshrined in the constitution in 1998.
The original plan offered to match individual contributions of $250 or less for any candidate who agreed to abide by an overall spending limit of $3 million.
But over the past two decades, lawmakers raised that limit … by a lot. Today, gubernatorial candidates can raise $25 million and still qualify for public assistance.
It’s like welfare for Warren Buffett. Plus, the candidates can have outside committees that collect and spend even more on their behalf.
So, a plan designed to reduce money in politics backfired. Candidates now spend more than ever and collect more tax dollars than ever.
“Nobody can say these elections are underfunded,” Aloupis said.
To the state’s credit, Florida’s constitutional review panel asked voters about a decade ago if they wanted to end this program — and most Floridians said yes. But the measure didn’t clear the 60% threshold, so it stayed in place.
Frankly, legislators needn’t re-write the Florida Constitution to fix a big part of what’s sick about the status quo. Rather than amending the constitution, they could dial back the contribution limits candidates can accept while still qualifying for matching money.
But Aloupis hopes to end the program altogether, believing voters will be more interested in doing so today than they were a decade ago.
“My sense,” he said, “is that the people of Florida realize that the amount of money being spent on these statewide elections is bordering on obscene.”
He’s right. And it’s an obscenity you help fund.”