How Campaign Finance Laws Make Florida Governor's Race Unique

Oct 8, 2014

Expect airwaves to be flooded with campaign ads in the final weeks leading up to Election Day.
Credit fotographic1980/freedigitalphotos.net

Florida’s campaign finance laws make for a unique governor’s race. In an analysis of television advertising through late September, the Rick Scott and Charlie Crist campaigns hadn’t spent much on TV advertising. Political parties and political action committees known as PACs have done most of the spending.

The Center for Public Integrity – a Washington D.C. nonprofit news organization -  is spending three years analyzing TV ad spending in races around the country. Note: The Center's estimates do not include ads bought through local cable companies for air only on local channels.  Advertising is expected to jump considerably in October now that the election is about a month away.

Below, read an edited version of an interview with Rachel Baye from the Center for Public Integrity. 

Rachel, what can you say about the money spent so far on TV ads by Charlie Crist and Rick Scott?
Their campaigns are only responsible for about three percent of the spending. The rest of the spending is being done by either the Republican Party of Florida or the Florida Democratic Party or these political committees – Let’s Get To Work, for example, which is affiliated with Gov. Scott, or the NextGen Climate Action Committee, which is actually a political nonprofit [and anti-Rick Scott]. They’ve also been spending quite a bit of money.

Would you say PACs have spent more than the political parties?
Actually no. Florida is really unique in this respect. There is no other state where the candidates are responsible for so little of the campaign spending. But the parties are actually responsible for roughly 64 to 65 percent.

Consensus is that this race is very nasty. Would you say there are far more negative ads than positive ones?
More than half of the ads absolutely are negative, are attacks ads of the other guy. Then you have almost a third of the ads are kind of a variation on the negative ad in that they’re contrasting the two sides.  Only about a fifth of the ads total running are actually just straight positive ads -- are saying I’m the best guy for the job and here are the great things that I’m going to do for the state, and that I’ve done for the state.

Where is most of the TV ad money being spent – which cities?
I can tell you both where they’re spending their money and also where the highest number of ads have run. You have to keep in mind those are two different things because certain markets are a little more expensive. The market that’s seen the most dollars pouring in is Orlando. The money spent on Orlando’s television advertising is about 30 percent roughly of all the money that’s been spent on television advertising across the state, but it’s actually second place for the number of ads that have been running.

The most popular market to air ads based on the number of times that the ads have aired is the Tampa market. It’s safe to say that if you live in Tampa or Orlando, you are being inundated by ads.

We know Miami is an important market, but it’s also the most expensive for ad buys. What have you observed about what’s being bought in Miami?
This is fascinating to me. You’re right, Miami is a very expensive market, and so you have roughly $2 million that have been spent in Miami’s market on television advertising. But it’s interesting because it’s actually one of the smaller markets when you look at the actual number of times the ads have aired in the Miami market.

The Scott campaign has more money available than Crist, so is Scott responsible for a lopsided number of ads?
Actually, no. The two candidates’ campaigns have really only spent about a million dollars between them -- $1.1 million, which is about three percent of the total spending overall in the state when we’re talking about television advertising.

Florida has some interesting campaign finance rules. Basically, the candidates are able to really work with both their respective political parties and also to work with the PACs. So, Let’s Get To Work, which Rick Scott works very closely with, has spent $10.8 million on television advertising, and the Republican Party of Florida has spent $13.2 million compared with the Democratic Party, which has spent just shy of roughly $11 million.

But overall TV ad spending by the political parties and the PACs is lopsided in favor of Scott, correct?
Absolutely. The pro-Scott ads are really outweighing the pro-Crist ads, that’s for sure. We’re talking a factor of about $24 million spent on pro-Scott ads versus $13 million spent on pro-Crist ads.

So, through late September, an estimated $37 million has been spent in total TV advertising in the governor’s race, not including ads that air on local cable. Would you explain how Florida’s campaign finance laws make a difference in ad spending compared to most states? 
At the federal level and in most states, candidates are not allowed to coordinate with outside groups - with political parties and with political action committees. Basically, that means that they’re not allowed to strategize together about the ads that they’re putting out. That’s not the case in Florida. In Florida, both candidates have starred in ads put out by the political parties or the PACs, and that’s totally allowed under Florida law. Basically, it comes down to the amount of money that each entity has.

The candidates, when they’re raising money, they have very strict contribution limits. The political parties and the PACs don’t face the same kind of contribution limits, so they have a much larger pool of funds to draw from. So, the candidates being allowed to work with the political parties and the political action committees really renders the contribution limits to candidates kind of irrelevant.