Rick Scott, the maverick candidate for governor challenging Attorney General Bill McCollum in the GOP primary for governor, filed a federal lawsuit on Wednesday that could cause serious problems for his opponent - and help his campaign at the same time.
Scott wants a court to strike down Florida's public campaign financing system, which gives taxpayer money to statewide candidates who agree to abide by spending limits. (Background here.)
Scott - whose lawyers cite a recent case from Arizona as a reason for the court should act - just as importantly is also asking that the federal court put in an injunction that prevents the state from handing out any money to candidates who plan to participate in the system. This would not just affect McCollum, but Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink and other candidates as well. Candidates are supposed to get their first checks from the state later this month.
Scott, who is using his own money to bankroll his campaign and is opposed to public financing, contends that the current system violates his First Amendment rights because it allows for candidates to get a dollar for dollar match of taxpayer money if Scott exceeds the $24.9 million spending limit.
Scott is coming close to that cap and has even set up a third-party organization or 527 in order to find a way to get around it. But while a 527 can pay for television ads it can't pay for other items that pay for the day to day operations of a campaign. Scott says in his lawsuit he has already spent $21 million and will "likely " exceed the $24.9 million cap. But he also says he has scaled back his television and radio advertising and other expenses because he is coming close to it.
The law "penalizes individuals who exercise their well-established First Amendment right to spend funds for campaign speech by directly providing opponents with state money to counteract and diminish that speech," reads the lawsuit.
It further reads that "Mr. Scott, a political newcomer, has expended substantial amounts of his personal resources to introduce himself to voters, articulate his policy positions, and engage in other voter education efforts. These efforts have so far proven successful as Florida voters have responded positively to Mr. Scott's message of change." But the lawsuit states giving state money to his opponents will "counteract and diminish Mr. Scott's own campaign speech."
McCollum's campaign immediately put out a statement denouncing Scott's actions:
"It should come as no surprise to anyone that Rick Scott, a man who oversaw the most massive Medicare fraud scheme in history, just can’t seem to play by the rules,'' said campaign manager Matt Williams.
“He’s spending the millions he ripped off of taxpayers to fund a self image repair campaign that has stopped at nothing to cover his past misdeeds and distort Bill McCollum’s record of conservative leadership. Rick Scott will have his day in court, but all this legal wrangling just proves what we already know. No amount of money – not even the more than 20 million Rick Scott has spent to date – will cover his record of fraud, hypocrisy and doublespeak"