Florida Gov. Rick Scott, after raising an eye-popping $4.6 million for his re-election campaign in the first three months of this year, can likely raise $100 million for his 2014 re-election race without spending heavily from his own fortune, says one of his top fundraisers.
But Scott’s intense fundraising while the state Legislature is in session, when he and the Legislature are considering bills that could financially affect some of the donors, has sparked partisan controversy in the Legislature.
According to reports by his Let’s Get to Work political committee, Scott raised $4,552,804 just in the first three months of the year, bringing the committee’s total campaign cash to around $9 million.
“I think he’ll be able to raise $100 million,” said Brian Ballard, a prominent Tallahassee lobbyist and one of Scott’s key fundraisers. “My hope is that he won’t have to write any check at all.”
In his 2010 campaign, Scott, who became a multimillionaire as head of a hospital chain, spent more than $70 million of his own money in an outsider campaign to become governor, taking on the establishment Republican Party in a primary against Bill McCollum and then Democrat Alex Sink.
Scott’s popularity and job approval ratings among voters remain low, according to polls, but his apparent willingness to spend heavily on his own campaign has been considered one of the main obstacles for any primary challenger and for a Democratic challenger in 2014.
Ballard said the 2010 race probably cost about $100 million, including spending by the state Republican Party and Scott’s campaign as well as Let’s Get to Work, and expects the 2014 race to reach or surpass that figure.
“Election cycles don’t generally cost less as you go into the future, and this campaign, I’m sure, will be fought on the airways,” Ballard said. In Florida’s high-priced media market, a saturation political ad campaign can cost up to $2 million a week.
Almost $3.3 million of the money Scott raised in the first quarter of year came since the March 5 start of the session, and some came from business interests with a financial stake in bills before the Legislature – bills Scott may have to decide whether to sign or veto.
The contributions included about two dozen of $50,000 or more, and several of $100,000 or more.
Florida Blue, formerly Blue Cross Blue Shield, kicked in $237,500, after contributing $400,000 last year; Heritage Property and Casualty Insurance added $100,000, and Simply Health Care, a health maintenance organization donated $150,000. All could be affected by the proposed end of a $220 million-a-year insurance industry tax break or legislative action on Medicaid.
Treasure Island real estate magnate Bill Edwards, a staunch GOP financier, added $500,000.
Florida Power & Light gave $50,000 and Progress Energy $100,000. Both could be affected by legislation on how utilities charge customers for building nuclear power plants.
Rules of both houses of the Legislature prohibit lawmakers from raising campaign cash during the session, but there is no such prohibition on the governor.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, proposed an amendment that would apply the same prohibition to the governor during the session and while any legislation is awaiting his signature.
The House voted down the amendment twice, both times on straight party-line votes, with Republicans opposed and Democrats in favor.
Williams denied his amendment was aimed at Scott. The second time he brought it up, he said, he revised it so it wouldn’t take effect until after the 2014 election.
“The governor has the ability to approve or disapprove what we do,” he said. “I think the governor should be held to the same standard.”
House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, asked by reporters about his opposition, noted that the prohibition on legislators is a legislative rule, not a law.
“If the governor wants to self-regulate the same way that we do in the Florida House, he’s welcome to do so,” Weatherford said.
Dan Krassner of the nonpartisan Integrity Florida watchdog group said extending the limits to the governor would be desirable.
Krassner said 29 states have limits on legislative fundraising during sessions, and 10 also have limits on executive branch officials, including governors.
“It just doesn’t look right to see lawmakers voting on issues during the day and taking checks from special interests later in the evening,” he said. “There should be a clear separation between the time for fundraising and the time when lawmakers are voting on public policy issues.”
But a prohibition might be difficult to enforce, said Tallahassee elections law expert Mark Herron.
The prohibition on legislative fundraising was formerly a law, but it was ruled unconstitutional because it put candidates at a competitive disadvantage, he said. The legislative rules replace the law.