Politics

GOP Voters: No Taxpayer Subsidies for Politicians

While candidates take money, poll finds 74 percent of GOP electorate oppose subsidies
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: August 4, 2010 1:20 PM


Republican voters are dead-set against public financing of election campaigns in Florida, a new Sunshine State News Poll reveals.

Asked, "Do you support or oppose Florida’s public finance law that allows taxpayer dollars to subsidize the cost of campaigns for candidates seeking statewide office?" Seventy-four percent of respondents answered "oppose."


Just 12 percent supported the law and 13 percent were undecided.

The lopsided results help to explain Bill McCollum's slide in the GOP gubernatorial race. The attorney general has accepted $1.7 million in public financing in his bid to compete with multimillionaire Rick Scott's spending blitz.

Scott, a retired health-care executive, has expended more than $21 million of his own money in the primary contest.

A second funding spigot was turned off last week by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which would have been triggered if Scott pierced the $24.9 million spending cap. The court issued an injunction due to Scott's challenge that the funding infringed on his First Amendment rights.

Those concerns are shared by Republican voters in the Voter Survey Service poll conducted July 26-30. The poll, commissioned by Sunshine State News, interviewed 1,345 likely GOP voters -- the largest statewide sampling this election year.

Opposition to Florida's election-finance program was widespread. Among all age groups and all geographic areas, at least 69 percent of respondents objected to the law, which former Gov. Jeb Bush once derided as "welfare for politicians."

Jim Lee, president of the Harrisburg, Pa.-based VSS, said the results were to be expected.

"People are saying public financing is the last thing government should be spending money on when everyone is having to tighten their belts and government is having to lay people off and cancel programs," Lee said.

University of Florida political science professor Daniel Smith said he was "not shocked" by the poll's results, "given the (Republican) demographics."

But, he added, "If you phrase the question differently ... there is support for alternative types of public financing."

Nevertheless, "Rick Scott has made this a big issue. It's certainly not good for Bill McCollum if Scott keeps hammering at it," Smith said.

Lee added, "I don't think we'd see much of a different result with independents. Maybe with Democrats, but not that big of a difference at all."

The Florida Legislature in 1991 enacted a $500 limit on individual campaign contributions for candidates who opt in to the public-finance system.

But McCollum, like other candidates, skirted the law by leveraging "independent" political committees to raise millions of dollars free of the $500 cap. The Sunshine State Freedom Fund, the Florida First Initiative and other committees founded by his allies have raised and spent more than $3 million since June attacking Scott.

Funding for these so-called "527" groups came from some of the heaviest hitters in Tallahassee: Blue Cross Blue Shield, U.S. Sugar, Auto Nation, the Florida Retail Federation, tobacco companies, medical lobbies and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

A simultaneous VSS poll reported Tuesday that McCollum trails Scott by 16 points. Those results were similar to a Quinnipiac Poll, which showed Scott leading by 11 points. Other pollsters have also reported double-digit margins for Scott.

McCollum spokeswoman Kristy Campbell sidestepped the poll results, saying, “It’s unfortunate Sunshine State News continues to shill for Rick Scott.”

The VSS poll's findings on public financing -- and the circuit court's 3-0 decision that shut off a second source of taxpayer money -- could prove problematic for other candidates who accepted taxpayer subsidies.

In addition to McCollum, all three Republican candidates for attorney general were allotted public funds: Holly Benson, $249,877; Pam Bondi, $307,074; and Jeff Kottkamp, $259,884.

Republicans vying for two other Cabinet positions also accepted public subsidies. Jeff Atwater, candidate for chief financial officer, received $586,138 and Adam Putnam, running for commissioner of agriculture, got $317,813.

Democrats running for Cabinet posts -- with the exception of gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, who has not yet said if she will do so -- also have accepted public funding upon qualifying.

Under Florida's campaign finance law, once a Cabinet candidate has raised $100,000, he or she is eligible for matching funds. Each individual contribution of $250 or less is matched dollar for dollar.

Cabinet candidates who accept public funding must agree to expenditure limits of $12,450,585 ($1 for each voter).

Higher limits in the gubernatorial race enabled Gov. Charlie Crist to spend more than $20 million in his 2006 election campaign -- and receive millions more in public subsidies.

"From Obamacare to illegal immigration to public campaign finance, Rick Scott is on the front line leading the charge against liberal, establishment policies that the voters oppose," said Joe Kildea, spokesman for the Scott campaign. "Meanwhile, our primary opponent has flip-flopped on this and every other important issue, all the while claiming to be a principled conservative. As we move toward the general election and taking on Alex Sink as she tries to bring President Obama's liberal agenda to Florida, voters are uniting behind Rick Scott as a conservative who has a record of creating jobs in business and a clear and detailed plan to grow Florida's economy."

While the VSS poll showed persistently high percentages of likely GOP voters still undecided on the attorney general contest (55 percent), respondents were much less conflicted on the campaign-finance law. Just 13 percent had yet to make up their mind.

VSS, an independent polling company which is a division of Susquehanna Polling & Research, questioned 1,345 likely Republican voters across Florida. Sunshine State News Poll's margin of error is 2.67 percent at the 95 percent confidence level.



Contact Kenric Ward at kward@sunshinestatenews.com or at (772) 559-4719.


Comments (1)

Craig Dunkerley
1:16AM AUG 5TH 2010
The way the question was worded, it might as well have asked "Do you support drowning kittens in sacks?" If a representative sample of all voters had been asked an alternate question, the results may have been quite different. How about, "Do you support funding election campaigns with unlimited amounts of special interest money from unions, wealthy individuals, and large corporations?" ...or maybe "Do you think wealthy special interest groups and lobbyists have too much influence in politics?" Polls like the one conducted are worse than useless, they're damaging to our democracy because they distort the facts, obscure the real issues, and manipulate voters. I wonder why the sponsors of such polls are afraid to give voters objective information and ask honest, unbiased questions.

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