TALLAHASSEE, Florida — Former Gov. Charlie Crist is getting some help for his challenge to incumbent Gov. Rick Scott. And it's coming from Florida taxpayers.
Crist on Friday received more than $474,000 when he received his second check of public matching funds. He has now received slightly more than $1 million in state money to assist his campaign.
Crist is not the only politician getting taxpayer matching help during the 2014 election. Former state senator Nan Rich has received slightly less than $200,000. Crist and Rich are Democrats. But all three Republican incumbents running for state Cabinet spots have also received taxpayer funds. Crist also accepted public money back in 2006 when he ran as a Republican.
Any candidate running for a state office can qualify for matching money from taxpayers. The GOP-controlled Legislature tried to repeal public financing of campaigns, but voters defeated the constitutional amendment in 2010.
The amount of matching money each candidate receives is based on how much money is raised from Florida residents. Donations from corporations or out-of-state residents can't be matched. Those who accept the matching money must abide by spending limits, but that limit does not apply to money spent by outside political committees or parties.
Some Republicans have labeled public financing "welfare for politicians" but Crist in the past has defended accepting the money.
Former Gov. Jeb Bush refused public money, as did both Scott and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink in 2010. Scott that year sued in federal court and successfully blocked a provision that would have given his primary opponent a dollar for dollar match based on how much money Scott spent.
Greg Blair, a spokesman for Scott's re-election campaign, criticized Crist's decision to accept the taxpayer funds.
"Charlie Crist is a millionaire who already receives a taxpayer-funded pension, and now he's making Florida taxpayers fund his false, negative attacks," said Blair.
Kevin Cate, a spokesman for Crist, contended that by criticizing Crist the Scott campaign is also "attacking his fellow Republican Cabinet members" in a bid to "do anything to hold on to power for his corporate giveaways."
The money Crist is getting from taxpayers is helping him try to keep pace with Scott. Crist has raised nearly $20 million in two campaign accounts according to state campaign records, while Scott has raised twice that amount. And that doesn't include money Scott's campaign said the governor has raised for the Republican Party of Florida.
So far this year, the state has paid out $2.4 million to candidate including more than $420,000 to Attorney General Pam Bondi, more than $343,000 to Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and $360,000 to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. Democratic candidate for Attorney General George Sheldon has received nearly $139,000.
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