Gov. Ron DeSantis has collected more campaign cash than any candidate in Florida history — around $130 million from special interests, out-of-state billionaires and average Floridians.
Some of his donors have given him checks as big as $5 million and $10 million a pop.
Yet last week, DeSantis also took more than $3 million from a taxpayer-funded welfare program for supposedly needy politicians who eschew big-money donors.
DeSantis will now add your money to his already deep-pocketed campaign to fund his attack ads, mailers or anything else he wants.
It’s like a Palm Beach billionaire getting food stamps. And it’s just the latest proof that Florida’s “public campaign finance” system is broken.
See, while DeSantis may be the newest poster child for for this mess, he’s hardly the first. I’ve been writing about this gross waste of money for two decades, starting back when Democrat Janet Reno and then-Republican Charlie Crist were sucking up the subsidies in 2002.
And here’s thing: Virtually everybody agrees it’s gross — including the lawmakers who could fix the system but refuse to do so.
A few years ago, former House Speaker Richard Corcoran called the politicians who take the subsidies clueless, selfish clods … until Corcoran began working for one of those politicians a few years later as DeSantis’ education commissioner.
Here’s what Corcoran said in 2017: “You really have to be clueless or just plain selfish to accept money from our state coffers that could go to our schoolchildren, first responders, or be put back in the pockets of our taxpayers.”
Keep in mind: Lawmakers constantly claim they don’t have enough tax money to do everything. They don’t properly fund public education. They tell families of children with disabilities that they have to wait years for services. They even routinely raid the state’s affordable-housing trust fund.
But millions are set aside for politicians who want to use your tax dollars on their campaigns.
DeSantis may be the welfare king this year — taking $3.3 million in subsidies so far; more than all the other candidates combined — but he’s not alone.
In the governor’s race, state records show Democrat Charlie Crist has also taken nearly $1 million and Democrat Nikki Fried has taken $634,000.
In the other races, incumbent GOP Attorney General Ashley Moody has taken $232,000. And Republican CFO Jimmy Patronis has taken $151,000. Those are Florida’s fiscal conservatives.
Like many government programs, this one started with noble intentions — with the idea of helping the little guys who refuse to take big money from special interests.
If a candidate agreed to take mostly smaller donations and also limit his or her total haul, then he or she could get $250 in state money for every $250 donation made by an individual.
But the program has a loophole so big that it’s an insult to loopholes to even call it that.
To qualify for the handouts, candidates only have to limit the donations to their official state campaign accounts. They can also operate separate political committees that collect unlimited donations from the deepest-pocketed special interests in America. That’s what DeSantis has done.
DeSantis has collected only $13.7 million in his official campaign fund — which means he qualifies for the subsidies.
But he has collected nearly 10 times that much — $130 million this cycle — in his Friends of Ron DeSantis committee. We’re talking about checks ranging from $50,0000 to $10 million from theme parks, energy companies, real estate developers, law firms, financial institutions, insurance companies, out-of-state billionaires and more.
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That’s the campaign you are subsidizing with your tax dollars.
Theoretically, a politician could refuse the money. And a few politicians have done so, including Republicans Jeb Bush and Rick Scott and Democrat Alex Sink. But most politicians can’t help themselves from sticking their hands in to the taxpayers’ cookie jar.
As the South Florida Sun Sentinel proposed in a recent editorial, there are simple fixes. The Legislature could ban candidates who take matching funds from running separate, so-called “soft-money machines” like Friends of Ron DeSantis. Or it could place donation limits on contributions to those committees as well.
But few politicians are willing to try to make those reforms. Instead, they want to cash big checks from special interests and qualify for subsidies from taxpayers. So we get the worst of both worlds.
If you want change, you should demand it. Before you vote for any legislator this year, ask them whether they’re willing to adopt the sensible reforms mentioned above.
And do yourself another favor: Don’t buy any malarkey from politicians who claim they’re looking out for taxpayers if they’re also stuffing your tax dollars in their campaign pockets as quickly as possible.
This story expires at 11:06am on Thursday November 3rd, 2022 and will be deleted.