There is rich irony to Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran deriding “welfare for politicians” and “the insider political class” in his call to eliminate Florida’s beleaguered public campaign financing system. He is, after all, the ultimate example of Tallahassee’s political insider class. His lifestyle has been subsidized for most of his adult life by either taxpayers or special interest campaign donors.
But Corcoran’s main rival for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam — no slouch in the political insider department himself — happens to be a walking, talking argument for critics to use against Florida’s public campaign financing system.
In 2014, the self-described fiscal conservative lapped up nearly $460,000 in taxpayer funded public financing money even though Putnam more or less ran unopposed for re-election, facing a no-name, no-money, no party-support, no-chance Democratic challenger named Thaddeus Hamilton.
“You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our schoolchildren, first responders, or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers. This proposal is simply about doing the right thing,” Corcoran said — without directly calling out Putnam — of his proposal to the Constitution Revision Commission to repeal campaign financing.
Florida’s public campaign financing program was intended to level the playing field for candidates running against people with unlimited money to spend. Candidates for governor and the three Cabinet offices who agree to limit spending by their own campaigns are eligible for matching money. The state matches contributions of $250 or less from Florida residents.
Legislators approved the system in 1986, well before fundraising became a virtual free-for-all of unlimited donations by corporations and individuals, easily laundered and disguised through the political parties and/or campaign committees.
Putnam’s campaign sounds like he intends to use public financing again as he runs for governor.
“Adam Putnam opposes the use of taxpayer dollars for political campaigns, but the liberal, billionaire activists, like Tom Steyer and George Soros, will stop at nothing to buy the Florida governor’s office for the Democratic Party, and it is critical that campaigns compete on a level playing field,” his campaign spokeswoman said.
State Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, does intend to use public campaign money, and on Twitter he dismissed Corcoran’s proposal.
“No citizen ever mentioned public financing as issue. Many ARE concerned about opioids, schools falling apart, water quality. . . . Asking @richardcorcoran to join me working on real issues that affect people’s lives,” Latvala tweeted.
Democratic frontrunner Gwen Graham also intends to use public campaign financing and argues that the system helps reduce the influence of special interests in Tallahassee.
“During nearly 20 years of Republican rule in Tallahassee, we’ve watched special-interest money and narrow agendas turn our public school system into a for-profit education industry, and throw everyday Floridians’ wages and economic opportunities out of whack,” Graham said. “As governor, I’ll take on the special interests, reduce the influence of money, and start setting things right for the people of Florida.”
Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum also criticized Corcoran’s proposal:
“Floridians want to have a real voice in their campaigns, and we have too much corporate money and too little transparency right now. But of course, Speaker Corcoran has been doing the bidding of corporate special interest for years and his political committee is directly benefiting from their donations, all the while presiding over the least transparent legislative session in our lifetime.”
Jolly, Murphy go on tour together
Former U.S. Reps. David Jolly, R-Belleaire Bluffs, and Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, are launching a series of town hall-style meetings across Florida to shine the light on gridlock and dysfunction in Washington. The bipartisan “Why Gridlock Rules Washington and How We Can Solve the Crisis,” series has four stops already scheduled — at the University of South Florida in Tampa, Florida International University, the University of Miami, and the University of Florida — which will be free and open to the public.
“Even in times of great disagreement there are ways of finding common ground, there are opportunities for bipartisan leadership to solve some of our country’s toughest issues. I’m excited and proud to join my friend on a statewide tour to discuss how this can be accomplished in today’s hyper-partisan world of politics,” Jolly said.
The first stop will be Sept. 12 at USF and the 75-minute event will be sponsored by USF and the Tampa Bay Times. More information is available at FixWashington2017.com.
Jolly, 44, and Murphy, 34, onetime rivals for the U.S. Senate in 2016, expect to add more events in the fall.
Murphy was the Democratic nominee for U.S. Senate and lost to Marco Rubio. Jolly was a leading contender for the GOP nomination but dropped out when Sen. Rubio reversed himself to run for re-election. Jolly went on to lose his seat in the House of Representatives to Charlie Crist. He is considering running again in the heavily Democratic district.