Key Florida campaign-finance provision blocked by federal court
A panel of the Eleventh US Circuit Court of Appeals issued an injunction on a provision of Florida's campaign-finance law aimed at leveling the playing field for candidates, citing free-speech rights.
A federal appeals court in Atlanta has blocked Florida election officials from providing potentially millions of dollars from the state’s campaign finance system to Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum in his race against multimillionaire challenger Rick Scott.Skip to next paragraph
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A panel of the Eleventh US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 3-0 on Friday that a provision of Florida’s campaign finance law would violate Mr. Scott’s free speech right to spend his own money to wage a political campaign for public office.
The court issued a temporary injunction barring Florida officials from distributing public campaign funds to Mr. McCollum. The appeals court said the public finance system’s funding mechanism would grant an unfair advantage to McCollum.
“At bottom, the Florida public campaign financing system appears primarily to advantage candidates with little money or who exercise restraint in fundraising,” wrote Judge William Pryor for the panel. “The system levels the electoral playing field, and that purpose is constitutionally problematic.”
The action comes only weeks before the August 24 Republican primary and at a time when McCollum’s campaign war chest is reportedly running short of cash.
Ruling comes at crucial time
Scott, a wealthy former health care executive, is using his own funds to finance his campaign for the Republican nomination, rather than relying on the state’s campaign finance system.
In contrast, McCollum is relying on the public finance system, including a provision that would entitle him to a dollar-for-dollar match once Scott spends more than $24.9 million. Scott is reported to be near or past that spending level now.
At that point, under Florida law, McCollum would be entitled to receive an “excess spending subsidy” designed to level the playing field between political candidates who agree to use the campaign finance system and those who do not.
A federal judge upheld the Florida system two weeks ago, saying it helped the state fight corruption and the appearance of correction.
In his appeal, Scott argued that Florida’s “excess spending subsidy” created an incentive for him to reduce his level of campaign spending to prevent triggering a provision that would award his political opponent with campaign money to use against him.
That is an unconstitutional burden on Scott’s free speech rights, his lawyers argued.
McCollum’s lawyers warned that an injunction would seriously harm their client’s election prospects because it would “leave him at a severe disadvantage for the crucial homestretch of the campaign and would impede his ability to convey his message to the electorate.”