Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis became the biggest one-year recipient of state matching funds as he received another large check leading up to Tuesday’s election.
DeSantis received a check for $363,575 on Friday, bringing to $2.67 million his total from the program, which provides matches for individual contributions of $250 or less to statewide candidates’ campaigns.
DeSantis edged past the haul of 2014 Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist, as the final checks for this year’s elections were doled out to five candidates, according to the state Division of Elections website.
Crist, who is now a congressman from St. Petersburg, tapped the taxpayer-subsidized program for $2.58 million in his unsuccessful bid in the 2014 mid-term election to unseat Gov. Rick Scott.
This year’s Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, drew just under $2.37 million from the program. Gillum received a check for $138,632 on Friday.
Overall, the state subsidized 10 campaigns in the current election cycle with a total of $8.92 million in matching funds. That was up from about $6.1 million in 2010 and $4.3 million in 2014.
Four of the candidates who qualified for the program this year lost in their August primary elections, including gubernatorial candidates Gwen Graham and Adam Putnam. In all, Putnam received $2.1 million from the program through his successful 2010 and 2014 races for state agriculture commissioner and his unsuccessful bid for governor.
The matching-funds program was approved by voters in 1998 as part of a constitutional amendment proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission.
An attempt to scuttle the program failed in 2010 when it gained 52.5 percent of the vote, short of the required 60 percent for adoption.
In the Republican primaries this year, the use of the program drew heavy criticism from candidates who didn’t dip into the funding pool.
The campaign of Republican Frank White, a state House member from Pensacola who ran for attorney general, described the program as “a $33 million taxpayer funded welfare-for-politicians slush fund.” In ads, White’s campaign called out his GOP primary opponent, former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, for claiming to stand for reducing government waste but receiving matching funds.
Moody fought back against White, arguing the program was established to combat self-funding by inexperienced candidates. White’s campaign was buoyed by his personal money.
Moody, who easily defeated White in the primary, received $20,900 in her latest matching-funds check, bringing her total from the program to $449,637.
Moody’s Democratic opponent, Rep. Sean Shaw of Tampa, received a check from the state on Friday for $17,038. Shaw received $319,563 from the state.
In the race for chief financial officer, incumbent Republican Jimmy Patronis got $4,100 on Friday to bring his participation in the program to $328,379.
Patronis’ Democratic opponent, Jeremy Ring, a former state senator from Broward County, is not in the matching-funds program. Nor is state Rep. Matt Caldwell, the Republican candidate for agriculture commissioner who has called the program “campaign welfare.”
Democratic agriculture-commissioner candidate Nikki Fried, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, didn’t receive any money from the program on Friday. Fried drew an overall total of $117,627.
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