Lawsuit ruling in Florida gubernatorial campaign undercuts public financing 

Gubernatorial races in two states have produced conflicting opinions from federal appeals courts on the constitutionality of publicly financed “matching funds” systems.
Florida Republican hopeful Rick Scott won a lawsuit before the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta which will curtail the state money available to his flagging, cash-poor opponent, Attorney General Bill McCollum. As a publicly financed candidate, McCollum would have received matching funds for every dollar over $24.9 million by the self-funding, independently wealthy frontrunner, Rick Scott. By accepting Scott’s First Amendment criticism of the state matching funds system, the 11th Circuit Court opinion is a dagger for McCollum, who argued in court that the preliminary injunction against matching funds would “leave him at a severe disadvatage for the crucial homestretch of the campaign and would impede his ability to convey his message to the electorate.”
Scott’s lawyers argued that the matching funds system diminishes the effect of Scott’s free speech while enabling McCollum’s campaign at taxpayer expense.  The 11th Circuit’s acceptance of this argument criticized the matching funds because that by government intervention “levels the electoral playing field and that purpose is constitionally problematic.” Moreover, the court ruled that the State of Florida failed to establish that “its subsidy furthers [public] interest in the least restrictive manner possible.”
This injunction against matching funds places the 11th Circuit at loggerheads with the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled in an essentially similar lawsuit in the Arizona Republican gubernatorial primary that ”the matching funds provision…imposes only a minimal burden on First Amendment rights.”  That 9th Circuit ruling overturned a lower court’s opinion that the Arizona matching funds system “is not the least restrictive alternative”  – a judgment remarkably similar to the 11th Circuit’s decision.
Although there are conflicting opinions, the 11th Circuit ruling casts a shadow on state public financing and its federal parallel. With such a colvoluted series of judicial precedents surrounding publicly financed matching funds, an authoritative lawsuit before and ruling by the Supreme Court of the United States should be in the offing.
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