The McCollum Campaign is taking on water and there isn’t a bucket in sight
By Jamie Miller
Have you ever heard the saying, “I’m so poor I don’t have a bucket to spit in or a window to throw it out of?”
The Bill McCollum campaign must be waking up this morning having that feeling of despair. They can’t win for losing, and losing, and losing. After Friday’s court decision from the 11th District Court of Appeals, it seems almost inevitable that August 24 will be Bill McCollum’s last day with his name on the ballot.
The news wasn’t so good before Friday.
McCollum was down to $800,000 cash on hand even though he was about to receive $1.7 million in state matching funds (yes, our tax dollars at work – telling you how to vote on the people who will tax us). The bad news for McCollum was that his campaign team had already publicly stated that they were expecting $2.5 million.
As Homer Simpson would say, – “Doh!”!
Polling hasn’t fared well for McCollum either. A recent Quinnipiaic University survey has McCollum trailing his main GOP rival Rick Scott by about 11 points. McCollum even released one of his internal polls recently that had him trailing by a scant 3 points.
McCollum’s team has continually been outmaneuvered by the newcomer whether it was turning down Scott’s call for debates early on, allowing Scott to establish the high ground, or spending most of his campaign dollars to try to stay in the race while banking on even more of our tax dollars to bail him out.
Which brings us to why McCollum and his campaign team are likely waking up to major hangovers this week – the court decision that allows Scott to continue to communicate to Florida voters regardless of the amount he wants to spend personally on the campaign.
Florida law states that if a candidate spent more than $2 per registered voter (this year $24.9 million) that the opposing candidate is allowed to petition the state for additional tax dollars to run their campaign. It is, in fact, a dollar for dollar match after one candidate exceeds the cap.
This gets a little complicated and the opinion is 44 pages long, but the court basically said that the law violates Scott’s First Amendment Right to free speech.
Quite frankly, when you first read the opinion, you will be proud of our system of checks and balances. I have long been a critic of campaign finance “reform.” I think candidates, corporations and individuals should be allowed to support whichever candidate they want with however much money they want as long as there is a reasonable reporting method and that no money can be spent before it is publicly reported as a donation (let’s just say within 48 hours).
The part of the opinion that will make you proud to be an American is when the circuit judge who was writing for the three-judge panel wrote, “each candidate will speak less if they lose the appeal. Scott will avoid aiding his opponent and McCollum will have less money to aid his campaign. We cannot say that the public has an interest in hearing more or less from either party.”
How refreshing is that? The judicial branch isn’t going to tell candidates how much they can communicate to voters. Isn’t that what voters want, more communication? I’m willing to bet most would want more candidates to follow the footsteps of Gov. Jeb Bush who rejected public financing of his campaigns.
But the real kick in the rear to McCollum came when the court said there is no reason to “fast track” an appeal. The judge said, “We also cannot say that enjoining the subsidy will disrupt the looming election.”
The window is closing on the McCollum campaign because later in the opinion the court says that there is no compelling reason, at this time, to lift the $500 per person contribution limit. Fundraising ends for the August 24 election on August 19th. Which means Bill McCollum has approximately $2.5 million to spend from about July 10th (when the last figures were made public) and August 24th. Of course, he can continue to raise money, but at this point, who is going to donate?
Rick Scott has yet to say how this will change his campaign strategy, but one could guess that everyone in Florida will be seeing more communication from Rick Scott soon.
It’s amazing because the court seemed to almost sniff out McCollum’s desperation and it seemed Bill McCollum built much of his arguments against Scott in the proverbial sand.
McCollum argued that the rules were in place, he created his strategy based upon the rules, and the court shouldn’t change them. Most observers of Florida politics and the court pointed out that after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Davis (2008) case that there were likely real problems with Florida’s contribution and spending limits. The court simply didn’t buy McCollum’s argument that the limits are in place to avoid corruption when someone is self-financing.
The court didn’t fall for McCollum’s lack of strategy when the judge wrote, “McCollum probably would have spent the same amount (of money)…with or without a provision for an excess spending subsidy. McCollum spent mostly in response to Mr. Scott’s expenditures.”
The court concluded that McCollum likely spent what he planned on spending, but he didn’t get to spend it (or he didn’t have the discipline to spend it) WHEN he wanted to, and he just wanted our tax dollars to supplement his campaign failures.
The effect of Friday’s ruling will likely be discussed by legal scholars and political scientists in the months ahead, but it does seem to me that the court clearly wants the Florida Legislature to determine the difference between contributions and spending limits in our law. This has been an issue since at least 1998. Many of the senior strategists on the McCollum team were in on the strategy when a guy named Jeb Bush was running for governor in 1998 and raised in excess of the spending limit at the time. Buddy McKay thought he was going to get an influx of money at the end of the campaign, but since Bush never spent the money, McKay never received his subsidy of tax dollars. Everyone involved in the McCollum campaign should have seen this coming.
Unfortunately for McCollum, he will likely join McKay in retirement if his own words from the court case come true. Giving Scott relief would “deprive the public of two powerful and competing voices during the final weeks of the campaign.”
You have to question whether McCollum ever had a strategy to be a “competing” voice since his strategy was to ensure that he was the only voice that was heard during the Republican primary. McCollum was ill-prepared to handle a well-financed competing voice.
Now that there is a competing voice, McCollum is sure to lose.
Jamie Miller has served as a senior strategist with many statewide campaigns including Bill McCollum’s successful bid for Florida Attorney General in 2006. E-mail him at: email@example.com.