Frequent readers of this column know there is no one in Florida politics I find more interesting than House Speaker Richard Corcoran. He has this uncanny ability to have his cake and eat it too, and it’s fascinating to watch. I was discussing this recently with a GOP elected official who chuckled in agreement. But there is part of me that believes Corcoran deserves more serious scrutiny, especially as he contemplates running for governor.
Right now, he has one foot in the gubernatorial race and one foot out. It allows him to maneuver behind the scenes in ways that could potentially benefit him if he decides to run or in ways that hurt his potential competition. He can take actions under the cover of being an elected official taking a stand and not an opponent taking a shot.
The latest example is a call to end public financing of elections on the grounds that its a misuse of taxpayer dollars. He did so through a letter urging the members of the Constitutional Revision Commission to put the issue on the ballot for Florida voters to decide.
Immediately that stuck out to me. The Legislature has the ability to put measures directly on the ballot without going through the CRC. Corcoran could have put this same call to his colleagues in the House, where he has great control over the agenda and what gets to the floor for a vote.
But he passed off what would have robust debate about the merits of the policy, instead putting the burden on the CRC. That hands-off approach allows Corcoran to let someone else do the dirty work. Even if the CRC doesn’t do what he asks, he can still claim moral victory without having actually put any work into reversing this policy.
Voters approved a constitutional amendment authorizing partial public financing of campaigns in 1998 as a way to level the playing field for people seeking the governorship and cabinet positions. Ironically, it was a proposal that originated from the prior iteration of the CRC.
The goal was to reduce the influence of special-interest cash in elections and reduce the pressure on candidates to collect checks from monied supporters. The program provides matching funds for candidates in exchange for limitations on how much they spend on the campaign and contribution caps.
Over the past 20 years, about $10 million in public financing has been used by candidates on both sides of the aisle running for statewide offices. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam received more than $1 million for his races in 2010 and 2014, according to information on the state website.
This is where we get to the heart of the matter, and where Corcoran’s stance on public campaign financing could be partially self-serving.
Putnam currently is the frontrunner to become the state’s next governor, and although he likely won’t apply for public financing now, he’s used it in the past. That could be used to attack his conservative credentials. The News Service of Florida reported that another GOP gubernatorial candidate, Sen. Jack Latvala, likely would depend on public financing in 2018.
I’m sure that Corcoran does have a genuine beef with public campaign financing, and there is room for conversation about whether it has provided any benefit in Florida elections. What I’m taking note of here is the timing and how taking this stand also allows him to draw a favorable comparison with would-be opponents.
It seems to be all reward and no risk for Corcoran. Meanwhile, his not-a-campaign makes it tough for Putnam or Latvala to respond in political terms. How can they react to an attack from someone who isn’t technically campaigning?
Contact Tia Mitchell at 850-933-1321.