Voters to decide on ending public campaign funding in Florida

by | Apr 29, 2024

A resolution to end Florida’s public campaign financing program, which matches funds for statewide election candidates, will appear on ballots this November, with proponents arguing the funds could be better used for education and housing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has authorized a resolution that places a constitutional amendment on ballots to end public financing for campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office.

Senate Joint Resolution 1114 (SJR 1114), introduced by Sen. Travis Hutson, serves as a constitutional amendment to repeal the existing public financing program that matches funds for candidates running for statewide offices, including the governor and cabinet positions.

The resolution aims to eliminate the use of General Revenue funds for campaign financing, with Hutson previously suggesting that the funds could be better allocated to other state needs such as water projects, affordable housing, and teacher salaries. Across the past four general election cycles, the state has expended more than $50 million on public campaign financing.

“Total public financing financing expenditures in the last four general election cycles for the governor’s race and three Cabinet members races are as follows: roughly $13 million in 2022, just over $10 million in 2018, just over 4.3 million in 2014 and roughly $6 million in 2010,” Hutson told lawmakers on the Senate floor during bill deliberations. “This is being funded out of our General Revenue dollars and I’d like to put it to the voters of Florida to see if they’d like to repeal that to find a better use for our taxpayer dollars.”

If adopted into state statute following voter approval, SJR 1114 would mark a departure from the current system established in 1998, which was designed with the intention to ensure that all qualified candidates, regardless of financial background, could compete in statewide elections. The public financing system matches personal contributions from Florida residents to candidates’ campaigns, subject to certain criteria and spending limits.

Through stops in Senate committees during the Legislative Session, various groups including voting rights organizations and environmental advocates expressed opposition to the measure, arguing that public financing plays a crucial role in maintaining a level playing field in elections, encouraging a more diverse range of candidates to run for office. They further contended that without such a system, political campaigns may become increasingly dominated by well-funded candidates, potentially limiting the democratic process.

Florida’s current public campaign financing system mandates public funding for candidates for Governor and Cabinet positions. The system, set in motion by a 1998 constitutional amendment and rooted in legislation from 1986, offers matching state funds to candidates who raise initial amounts from Florida residents—$150,000 for gubernatorial candidates and $100,000 for Cabinet office candidates.

Matching is provided first at a two-to-one rate, then dollar-for-dollar up to $250 per contribution, with the condition that candidates adhere to spending limits. Originally funded by a trust fund, the program is now financed through the state’s General Revenue Fund following the trust fund’s expiration in 1996.

On the ballot, the resolution would require at least 60 percent approval from voters to amend the state constitution and officially repeal the public financing program.


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