Florida Judge Kills Matching Funds; Money Is Considered Free Speech in Political Campaigns

Just days after the U.S. Supreme Court found Arizona's matching-funds campaign law unconstitutional, a Florida federal court judge halted a similar provision in this state.

The issue, unsurprisingly, was brought up in a lawsuit by then-candidate Rick Scott, who said his right to free speech was being violated by the state providing funding in the primary to Bill McCollum.

Under the law, the state would have provided matching funds, courtesy of the taxpayer, to McCollum once Scott went over the primary-election cap of $24.9 million -- which he did.

A judge granted a temporary injunction in favor of Scott, allowing him to spend over the cap without providing funds to McCollum.

It's not exactly a shock that the Florida decision followed suit with the Supreme Court, and although the campaign financing laws in Arizona and Florida aren't the same, the decisions effect a similar aspect of the states' laws.

It's also convenient timing for this issue to be raised with a Tea Party-backed candidate at the head of the state, as the law clearly uses taxpayer money.

But along with Florida's statutes about publicly financing elections, the legislature actually put the intent on the books. Their intent, as you will see, implies that they were trying to stop exactly what Rick Scott was doing -- discouraging other campaigns by the sheer amount of cash available to rich candidates:

The Legislature finds that the costs of running an effective campaign for statewide office have reached a level which tends to discourage persons from becoming candidates and to limit the persons who run for such office to those who are independently wealthy, who are supported by political committees representing special interests which are able to generate substantial campaign contributions, or who must appeal to special interest groups for campaign contributions.

The Legislature further finds that campaign contributions generated by such political committees are having a disproportionate impact vis-a-vis contributions from unaffiliated individuals, which leads to the misperception of government officials unduly influenced by those special interests to the detriment of the public interest.

Furthermore, it is the intent of the Legislature that the purpose of public campaign financing is to make candidates more responsive to the voters of the State of Florida and as insulated as possible from special interest groups.

Again, the federal judge struck down only part of Florida's law, but it looks like the ruling undermines the exact intent of the Legislature.

The real point here is that the Florida judge's ruling further affirms what we saw in Arizona's Supreme Court battle, as well as in Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission -- money equates to free speech in elections.

All three of those decisions were based on complaints that spending campaign money is a First Amendment issue. Scott's specific complaint was that by giving McCollum public money, it put a squeeze on then-candidate Scott's freedom of speech.

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Scott spent more than $70 million of his own money during that election.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley