By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Money alone doesn’t guarantee a winning election, but it sure helps.
Just ask Florida Gov. Rick Scott. After spending more than $70 million of his own money in 2010, Scott’s re-election effort could reportedly top $100 million.
Former Gov. Charlie Crist, the odds-on favorite to win the Democratic nomination – though he previously served in the office as a Republican - aims to keep up as best he can.
Crist has been raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars in the two months since launching his campaign, much of which is coming from health-care and law-related donors.
But with such vast sums piling up on both sides, what’s in it for the candidates, exactly?
Florida‘s chief executive office only pays $130,000 a year, so it can’t be the paycheck.
“From an economic perspective, it’s irrational,” Sean D. Foreman, former president of the Florida Political Science Association, told Watchdog.org.
According to records from the Florida Department of Management Services, Scott isn’t remotely interested in directly recouping his political investment from taxpayers. His official salary is just 12-cents a year. You read it right: 12-cents a year.
“Some people get involved for the power or the prestige, but others get involved to shape policy to fit their own ideology,” Foreman said. “Scott probably feels that rather than spend his money backing other candidates, he should take a shot himself.”
To that end, the expensive gamble has paid off. The wealthy pro-business Republican rode a tea party wave to victory by opposing the Affordable Care Act, and has since implemented a low-tax, economic growth agenda centered on jobs.
Now, Scott wants another four years to remake Florida in his image. And he’s willing to dig deep into his own pockets to do it, spending roughly $38 per vote to match his former winning total of 2.6 million.
Crist, on the other hand, will be spending other people’s money.
“Crist doesn’t have great wealth but has the ability to raise money because people have confidence that he’s a vessel to invest in to carry forth their own political agendas,” Foreman said.
Once a Republican, then independent and now Democrat, Crist is professing political convictions contrary to those on which he previously campaigned .
Still, most candidates win by spending other peoples’ money, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
“Most candidates, according to our data, don’t spend large sums of their own money, although there are certainly exceptions,” said Russ Choma, an investigative reporter with the Center for Responsive Politics.
Only a few self-financed candidates have scored high office in recent years, Florida’s Scott and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg are two.
But there are other reasons why some seek relatively low paying political jobs.
“… The benefits of the job go way beyond salary,” Dean Stansel, Associate Professor of Economics at Florida Gulf Coast University told Watchdog.org. “In addition to fringe benefits, for some people there’s also a large benefit to being in a position of authority”.
That includes being in the spotlight, Stansel said. “It makes them feel more important.”
Campaign cash aside, to win elections candidates need votes, which is something Florida tea party groups say could be a problem for the incumbent Scott, despite his vast wealth and willingness to spend lavishly on the campaign trail.
“Overall, Scott has worked out pretty well for Florida,” Paula Helton, an activist with the Gainesville Tea Party, told Watchdog.org. “But we’re not as enthusiastic as we were in 2010.”
Helton points to Scott’s embrace of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act as a major betrayal. It ranks right up there with the lack of access granted to tea party groups once Scott was elected by a 1.2 percent margin, she said.
“We feel shut out, and he can’t win without us, ” said Helton. “We vote, we get others to vote, and we do it with very little money. (Scott’s) money can’t win an election by itself.”
When asked about Scott’s $100 million campaign pledge, Helton was unimpressed.
“That seems like a low figure for important elections these days,” she said.
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