Sen. Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, is hoping a fourth time will be the charm in finally doing away with the state’s 21-year-old public campaign financing law.
Baxley Tuesday filed two senate joint resolutions – as he did during the 2019 session – to repeal the state’s public campaign law because “campaign funds and public money do not go together.”
SJR 1108 seeks to repeal a state law that authorizes public financing of campaigns and SJR 1110 asks the Legislature to place a proposed amendment banning the use of public money for campaigns on the November 2020 ballot or, possibly, in a special election.
Neither has as yet been assigned to committees nor has a House companion measure been filed for the 2020 legislative session, which begins Jan. 14.
Florida voters approved a 1998 constitutional measure to create a public campaign contribution program that matches donations of $250 or less from individuals to candidates for state office.
In the 21 years since Florida became one of 14 states to provide some form of public financing option for campaigns, almost $56 million in matching funds has been allocated by the state to candidates.
In the November 2018 elections, overall matching funds contributed by Floridians to campaigns totaled $9.85 million, more than double the $4.34 million from 2014’s midterm election, and topping the nearly $6.07 million doled out to candidates in 2010.
Gov. Ron DeSantis’ campaign received $3.23 million from the program while his opponent, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum’s campaign, received just under $2.62 million.
The $5.85 million in public campaign contributions was less than 5 percent of the $106 million the DeSantis and Gillum campaigns combined to raise in their 2018 election.
Florida’s matching money program has survived numerous attempts by conservatives to dissolve it by legislation. Resolutions seeking its repeal via ballot measure have been filed and have failed each session since 2017.
A 2010 ballot measure to strip it from the constitution failed to secure the required 60 percent majority necessary to pass.
During the 2019 session, Baxley’s resolutions passed the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee in a 4-3 vote but advanced no further.
Companion resolutions filed by Rep. Rick Roth, R-Palm Beach Gardens, actually passed three House committees but was never presented on the floor for a chamber vote.
Baxley told the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee in March that the campaign matching fund program “has bothered me for a long time,” noting that there are many ways for conscientious candidates to run afoul of the state’s complex, often arcane, elections laws “but you can get donations matched to public money.”
He called the program “welfare for candidates.”
If candidates are “viable,” Baxley said, “they will raise the volunteers and the money to win.”
The resolutions place the issue before voters.
“Give voters a chance to express their opinion on this,” he said.
Democrats, some Republicans and an array of advocacy groups are expected to oppose any effort to end the public campaign financing program
The 1998 law allows for “a modest investment in honest government,” Common Cause Florida states, noting the-near $10 million doled out to 2018 candidates amounts to “less than 70 cents per voter.”