Editing the Constitution: Amendment 1

July 7, 2010

Note: This week Over the next week or two I’ll spend several days and diaries discussing the constitutional amendment process in Florida as well as the specific amendments that are on the November ballot this year. The first part of the series is here.

On Monday we learned how the Florida constitution can be amended and that the amendment process usually takes the form of a citizen initiative or a Legislative initiative.

Today, we’ll look at one of the Legislative initiatives on the ballot this year.  Amendment One has been introduced by the Legislature to do away with Florida’s public campaign finance system.

As we learned yesterday, Florida’s constitution is constantly morphing as new amendments are passed by voters and edited into the original text.  We also saw some examples of the Legislature introducing amendments specifically to undo earlier, often progressive changes mandated by voters.

This year’s Amendment One is just such an animal.  In 1998, voters enshrined into the constitution a bare bones public financing system for some statewide offices.  Unfortunately, despite the will of the voters, the system never gained much legislative support and now the Legislature is tired of spending perfectly good public money to help candidates compete when it’s stunningly obvious to everyone that raising private cash from corporations and wealthy influence peddlers or just outright buying the election for oneself is teh shit.

Unfortunately, the program that Jeb Bush referred to as “welfare for politicians” is probably doomed.  The system is so broken and full of loopholes that it does little to help underfunded candidates compete, and the tide of special interest and corporate money has been rising in Florida just like elsewhere despite the public system.

There is absolutely no uprising in opposition to this bill, and with even public campaign financing stalwarts like Common Cause singing the death knell of the current system, this may be the last year for public financing in Florida.

“The campaign finance law really has become so messed up, the question is whether we should even try to save it,” said Ben Wilcox, a board member with Common Cause Florida, which has long supported the state public finance system.

“The system has been so manipulated, it doesn’t look much like it was intended to look,” he added.

since its earliest days, the public finance system has been gamed by lawmakers, its supporters say.

The most dramatic move came five years ago, when the Republican-controlled Legislature nearly tripled spending limits for those running for governor — raising the spending roof to where this year, candidates can spend as much as $24.9 million and still qualify for taxpayer money.

Spending limits for Cabinet candidates also were raised fivefold that year, from $2 million.

The spending caps were bumped skyward in 2005 in anticipation of a freespending battle in the governor’s race – beginning with a costly GOP primary between now-Gov. Charlie Crist and rival Tom Gallagher.

Eventually, Crist pocketed more than $3.3 million in public funds, while also spending $20 million in the governor’s race. He also drew at least that much financial support from the Florida Republican Party.

Party backing didn’t count toward the spending cap. And having the party cover campaign expenses and air television ads was among the first means candidates used to sidestep spending limits.

The rise of 527 groups in this year’s Republican primary has further blurred the role of spending limits. Such shadowy organizations, named for the section of the IRS code that governs them, can raise and spend unlimited amounts to influence an election – usually through TV ads aimed at tearing down an opponent.

Ironically, Republican Gubernatorial candidate and House Impeachment Manager Bill McCollum, an ardent opponent of public campaign financing, may be one of the last politicians to ever benefit from the system, as his floundering campaign is about to receive a gift in the form of matching contributions from the state.  He needs every penny he can scrape together – his self-financing opponent has unlimited funds.

I’m certainly not going to shed any tears for McCollum, but it’s apparent that whether Amendment 1 passes or not that the financing system in Florida is already really broken.  McCollum’s opponent Rick Scott is attempting to buy the GOP Governor’s race, and Jeff Greene is trying to do the same in the Democratic Senate primary, and both of them may prevail due solely to the vast amounts of cash they are spending.

Amendment 1 aims to tear down the last vestiges of a crippled and broken down system.  Public financing has  been defanged and declawed and essentially left for dead for years.  November’s vote will be the public execution.

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2 Responses to Editing the Constitution: Amendment 1

  1. Jake on July 8, 2010 at 12:43 pm

    My wife always says I am too soft on McCollum, who I would never vote for, but I gotta say, Rick Scott scares me about as much as anyone to hit the public stage. I don’t mind a little public money going to keep that criminal off the November ballot in favor of Bill the impeacher.

    Jeff Greene bugs me too, though mostly because he seems such a sham that the Dems will lose the general should he prevail in August.

  2. Editing The Constitution – Developing News on July 10, 2010 at 5:10 am

    [...] BlogWood 2.0 Return of teh Wood Skip to content « Editing the Constitution: Amendment 1 [...]

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