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What you need to know about Florida’s Amendment 6, the campaign finance ballot question

In World
June 08, 2024

Florida voters will decide this November whether to pull the plug on a program that for a quarter-century has allowed candidates seeking the state’s highest offices to subsidize their campaigns with public money.

Amendment 6, one of six ballot measures that Floridians will consider this fall, aims to end the public financing of campaigns for governor and cabinet positions like attorney general.

Voters shot a similar proposal down in 2010. But the state Legislature voted this year to see if, given a second chance, Floridians would end a practice that since 2010 has steered more than $33 million in taxpayer money to political campaigns.

Archive: Florida state Sen. Travis Hutson, during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Jan. 24, 2017. The committee advanced his bill on a party-line vote with Republican support.

Archive: Florida state Sen. Travis Hutson, during a Senate Judiciary Committee meeting on Jan. 24, 2017. The committee advanced his bill on a party-line vote with Republican support.

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Sen. Travis Hutson, a Palm Coast Republican, sponsored the resolution that pushed the proposed constitutional amendment onto this year’s ballot. Hutson, who did not respond to multiple requests for comment, said during this year’s legislative session that repealing public campaign financing would allow taxpayer dollars to be put toward other needs.

“This is money coming out of general revenue and I believe we should put the question back to the voters to see if they would like us to spend general revenue on things other than advertising for statewide office,” Hutson said during an Ethics and Elections Committee meeting.

According to a Senate bill analysis, over $13 million of taxpayer dollars went to the candidates running for governor and the three state Cabinet positions in 2022, the last time those positions were on the ballot. Gov. Ron DeSantis received over $7 million in public funds to boost a campaign that raised around $200 million. His Democratic opponent, Charlie Crist, received over $3 million in public money.

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But critics of the amendment worry that doing away with public campaign financing would discourage people from running for office.

Ben Wilcox, a board member of Common Cause Florida, told the Miami Herald that if Amendment 6 passed it would be bad for the integrity of elections and public policy.

“Corporations and wealthy individuals that make campaign contributions would have more ability to influence our elections,” said Wilcox. “Candidates that are not able to access that kind of funding and that rely on smaller donations from individuals, it would hurt those candidates’ chances to win and empower the big campaign donors to have more influence on public policy.”

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How does public campaign financing in Florida work?

In 1998, Florida voters enshrined into the state constitution the ability for candidates running for governor and other state cabinet positions to qualify for public money to subsidize their campaigns.

The program makes available to candidates matching funds from state coffers, under the condition that they place some modest restrictions on the amount of money spent by their campaign.

Archive: Gov. Ron DeSantis appears in Hialeah on Nov. 7, 2022 during his reelection campaign.

Archive: Gov. Ron DeSantis appears in Hialeah on Nov. 7, 2022 during his reelection campaign.

Candidates for governor, for instance, must agree to spend no more than $2 per registered voter, though they can spend more if a candidate who does not receive public money blows past that same limit.

Only personal contributions from Florida residents to a candidate’s official campaign account are eligible for matching funds, capped at $250 per person. Contributions from corporations and political committees are not matched.

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What do critics say about Amendment 6?

Wilcox says that public campaign financing has allowed a wider range of candidates to run for office in Florida and has given candidates with fewer resources a way to be competitive in elections.

“When you have a candidate who is able to access large campaign contributions versus a candidate who doesn’t have that kind of funding, public campaign financing acts as a way to even the playing field between those two candidates,” said Wilcox.

In 2010, the last time Floridians considered ending the program, a majority of voters wanted it gone, but the ballot question failed because it did not receive 60% support.

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Wilcox believes that Floridians will vote against Amendment 6 again this fall, saying that there has been no “public outcry” to do away with public campaign financing. He can only guess why lawmakers have once again brought this issue to the ballot.

“I think there are some lawmakers who are just philosophically opposed to spending public dollars in elections for campaigns and they’re probably the ones who benefit from a system where there is no public campaign financing,” said Wilcox. “They’re probably benefiting from large campaign contributions that are coming from wealthy individuals and corporations so they don’t see a need to level the playing field with candidates who don’t have access to that kind of funding.”

While the initiative to repeal public campaign financing has been pushed by Republican lawmakers, Wilcox says that both Democratic and Republican candidates have benefited from public funds for their campaigns.

Wilcox says as Floridians are deciding on how they will vote on Amendment 6, he hopes they will ask themselves if public policy should be based on “public interest” or the “influence of wealthy corporations.”

“Typically in a Florida election there are corporations in the state that spend hundreds of thousands of dollars supporting candidates and those corporations want something in return for that money. They’re not giving a $100,000 contribution in the interest of good government, they’re hoping the government is going to be good to them,” said Wilcox.

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