Florida taxpayers spent more than $5.8 million to bolster the campaigns of 10 candidates for statewide office last year, giving public dollars to individuals who arguably didn't need the money but took it anyway.
The money was doled out under Florida's public campaign finance law, enacted in 1986 to try to enable under-funded candidates who agreed to limit their spending to compete with rivals raising millions in special-interest contributions. But because of changes approved in 2005 by the Legislature, the law allows virtually anyone running for office to apply for a public subsidy.The 25-year-old law provides matching dollars of up to $250 per contribution to statewide candidates who raise enough money on their own to be considered viable, and also agree to spending limits. If an opponent spent more than the limits set by the law, the under-funded candidate was eligible for a dollar-for-dollar match of the excess.
But in 2005, the Legislature more than tripled the spending ceiling – from $6.7 million to $24.9 million for the governor's office; and from $3.35 million to $12.4 million for other statewide races. At the time, that was more that any candidate had ever spent for statewide office – and it made even well-funded candidates eligible for subsidies.
This year, candidates for the three Cabinet offices – attorney general, chief financial officer and agriculture commissioner – accepted a combined $4 million in taxpayer support, about the same as what was spent on those offices in 2006.