The Taxpayer Bailout of Bill McCollum
Around the State
Bill McCollum received $1,260,142.17 in campaign matching funds from the state Friday, looking for as much cash as he can to battle billionaire Rick Scott for the Republican gubernatorial nomination. (See the campaign finance documents attached at the bottom of the story.)
Jennifer Krell Davis, spokeswoman for the Division of Elections, said Friday's state disbursement will be the first in a weekly series of cash infusions to McCollum, who continues to trail Scott in the polls.
Under Florida's matching program, McCollum will receive a dollar of public funds for every dollar Scott spends over the $24.9 million limit the law imposes on candidates who don't opt into the state finance system.
Scott challenged the legality of the program this month, but U.S. District Court Judge Robert Hinkle rejected his claim. Scott's lawyers are now pleading his case with the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal.
In the meantime, McCollum will use public funds in an effort to compete with Scott, who has peeled off more than $20 million from his own bankroll.
The attorney general's acceptance of taxpayer money contrasts sharply and ironically with his campaign calls for reduced government spending and his professed concern about "belt-tightening" by taxpayers. Until recently, many Republicans supporting McCollum had derided the state's election-funding pool as "welfare for politicians."
Indeed, the Republican-controlled Legislature approved an amendment for the Nov. 2 ballot to abolish the public-financing system. McCollum's case of cognitive dissonance was compounded this week when liberal columnist Robin Blumner appeared to rise to his defense.
"There is no better evidence that money animates politics -- in the way that Frankenstein's monster was animated -- than seeing complete unknowns transformed into viable statewide candidates simply by writing their own checks," Blumner wrote in the St. Petersburg Times.
"The problem for candidates who are not independently wealthy is that the game is somewhat rigged," she stated. "We have a hamstrung candidate who has to continuously raise money in small amounts challenged by one who simply digs in his own pocket."
How "hamstrung" is McCollum by these "small amounts"?
At the end of the first quarter, the one-time front-runner reported raising $6,461,540 and listed $3,876,125 in cash on hand.
On Friday, McCollum campaign manager Matt Williams announced "more than $1.04 million in contributions" in the second quarter, while adding that "final numbers are still being calculated."
Williams said contributions came from “more than 6,000 donors -- a campaign record -- in the second quarter."
McCollum's reserves, however, have dwindled in the past quarter -- down to $800,000, according to federal court filings -- under Scott's media onslaught.
Scott, a former president and CEO of Columbia/HCA and a first-time candidate, has blanketed the airwaves with advertising since entering the gubernatorial primary in April. In addition to receiving public funds, McCollum has obtained hefty sums from leading Republican lawmakers.
Senate President-designate Mike Haridopolos and House Speaker-designate Dean Cannon have pumped more than $1 million from their 527 campaign committees to other committees helping McCollum.
Last week, Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, funneled $190,000 more to one of McCollum's allied 527 committees, the Florida First Initiative, which has been airing TV ads attacking Scott’s tenure at Columbia/HCA.
Earlier, McCollum was an off-the-books beneficiary of attack ads purchased by the Alliance for America's Future, a shadowy 501(c)4 group headed by Mary Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney.
There are also the perks of incumbency. Both McCollum and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, the state's chief financial officer, have been criticized for using state planes during their campaigns. Campaign analysts say both could be severely crippled by "Planegate" as the election season rolls on.
Sink, who outraised McCollum in the first quarter and reported $5.7 million in the reserves as of June 30, said she will not take public financing ... for now. Scott has not yet released his second-quarter contribution report.
McCollum's campaign did not respond to Sunshine State News' request for comment about today's disbursement from the state.
Jennifer Baker, spokeswoman for the Scott campaign, said, "Florida taxpayers should not be required to pay for the election campaigns of career politicians."
Contact Kenric Ward at email@example.com or at (772) 801-5341.