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Florida House OKs proposal to ban public cash for campaigns

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(Associated Press)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A proposal to end the public financing of big-money political campaigns in Florida advanced Wednesday, as the state House passed a pair of bills that would place the matter before voters in November.

The sponsor of the measure, GOP Rep. Vance Aloupis, argued that the money should instead be spent on programs directly benefiting communities.

“Those dollars are going to statewide campaigns that I fundamentally believe are already over-funded,” Aloupis told his fellow lawmakers.

During the 2018 election, statewide candidates siphoned nearly $10 million from the state's general fund to help fuel their campaigns — a relatively paltry amount when compared to the money spent by candidates for governor, attorney general, chief financial officer and agricultural commissioner.

Much of the public funding — more than $8 million of it — went to the governor's race. The eventual winner, Republican Ron DeSantis, spent $13.9 million and got $3.2 million in state campaign funds, while his Democratic opponent, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, spent $16.4 million and received $2.6 million in public money.

“There is nothing to suggest in the data that the amount of money being taken out of general revenue will not continue to increase as it has over the last eight years,” Aloupis said in a floor speech.

“From 2010-2018, we saw a 60% increase in the amount of money that has been taken out of general revenue, money that we use to fund programs and projects in our communities for our constituents," he said.

The fund from which the money is drawn is the same account that pays for much of the state's discretionary spending for education, environmental programs and other expenses.

Statewide candidates are eligible for public money if they agree to spending limits.

Rep. Joe Geller, a Democrat, called public financing of campaigns a “noble effort to help the public have a greater say in who governs the state of Florida."

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, another Democrat, argued against the repeal of public funding, saying that the current system should instead be changed to address specific failures. He said it should perhaps allow lower-ballot races to continue receiving funding while exempting gubernatorial candidates from receiving funding.

“There are ways we can tweak the law to avoid subsidizing huge moneyed campaigns that raise absurd amounts of money in the last governor's race,” he said.

A similar proposal in the Senate didn't make it out of committee, but the chamber can consider the House-approved measure.

The House ratified the measure 106-10. To make it to the ballot, the measure requires a supermajority — three-fifths — from each chamber. A referendum does not require review from the governor.