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Friday, 16 January 2009 22:00

Attn: Sen. Haridopolos: Ending campaign financing would be a mistake

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On January 9, FLORIDA TODAY published news item that said Brevard's State Sen. Mike Haridopolos had filed legislation to eliminate public financing of campaigns for governor and Florida Cabinet posts. The following Op-Ed column was written in response.
Op-Ed column published by FLORIDA TODAY
Thurs. Jan. 15, 2009

Locking the people out

Ending campaign financing unfair to voters

by Fred Markham, Guest Columnist

Calling it "welfare for politicians", Senator Mike Haridopolos, Merritt Island, has proposed legislation to eliminate the Florida Election Campaign Financing Act, which provides small donor matching funds to candidates for Governor and Cabinet offices.  It helps reduce special interest domination of elections and makes it possible for candidates to run who are not wealthy or bankrolled by wealthy clients.  In a small way, the Florida Election Campaign Financing Act increases democracy by providing a voice for middle class and poor voters.  If Mr. Haridopolos is successful, gubernatorial and cabinet election campaigns will be completely dominated by less than one percent of the population, as is already the case with state legislative elections.  

The "welfare" charge is utter nonsense.  Using public money to help distribute some political influence downward from the elite into the electorate is no more a matter of political welfare than it is political welfare to pay Mr. Haridopolos his senate salary. We pay the legislature salaries to buy good governance, and we are wise to pay a reasonable amount to help elect a government to represent all Floridians, rich, middle class, and poor alike. It is our money after all, and spending it to get the government we need is smart investing.

Instead of canceling the Florida Election Campaign Financing Act, we need to expand public campaign financing to include the state legislature, where elections are totally dominated by private money and special interests.  The influence of private money is so extreme, and the voters have become so irrelevant to the process, that Florida is truly a democratic government in name only.  Outrageous claim?  Let's look at the Florida Division of Elections data for 2008.  Of the 120 house and 20 senate seats up for election in 2008 we had 10 financially competitive elections ? ten! In an astonishing 87 races there was no competition for the seat:  either no opponent, or only a write-in opponent, or a weak opponent who was outspent by more than 20 to 1.  This means that the 2009 legislature will convene with one senator and 9 representatives whose elections reflect the voice of the people.  The remaining 130 have been anointed by the private, special interest money that finances our Florida political system.

We can follow the example of Maine, Arizona, Connecticut and other states to fix this problem and return Florida government to the voters.  These states have very successful public campaign financing  programs, and they have proved to be ? not an expense ? but a money maker because they no longer have to spend hugely to service the interests of the private contributors.

This issue deserves lots of public debate during 2009 and 2010.  Let's begin the discussion not with Mr. Haridopolos' cynical "political welfare" tag, but with an honest look at how government is elected today, how it has disenfranchised most of the electorate, and what real options we have to return government to the Florida voters and tax payers.

Fred Markham is the Clean Elections coordinator (and committee chair) for the Space Coast Progressive Alliance.
Last modified on Wednesday, 22 February 2012 17:59
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