Taking A Closer Look At What Will Go Into A Successful Ballot Initiative In Florida

Written By John Holden on July 16, 2021
What Goes Into Successful Ballot Initiative

This week marked our first glimpse at the initial war chest funding the initiative from Florida Education Champions (FEC) to bring a competitive mobile sports betting market to Florida.

The $20 million equally split between FanDuel and DraftKings will mark only a seed round of funding for what will almost surely be one of the most expensive campaigns in the history of Florida.

The posting of this funding comes just as the US Department of the Interior expects to decide on the validity of the compact between Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Seminole Tribe. However, there is some confusion as to just when the 45-day window on answer closes.

When will we know whether the Seminole compact is approved?

There is some uncertainty as to when the newly ratified compact made it to the DOI.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office initially indicated that the compact headed to the nation’s capital on June 3. That would mean the 45-day window would expire sometime during the week of July 19.

But a complaint filed by West Flagler Associates lists June 21 as the date for receipt of the compact. This later date would mean that we should not expect an answer (assuming the DOI is going to use all 45 days) until the first week of August.

Contingencies are underway

Regardless of whether the compact receives approval, Florida Education Champions appear poised to mount a vigorous campaign to get their question on the ballot in the 2022 general election.

Of the $20 million banked by FEC, the political action committee expended about $159,000 in its first week of existence.

The bulk of these early expenditures are in three debits for legal services. That includes what may be a $50,000 retainer paid to Gunster, Yoakley & Stewart, a Jacksonville-based law firm specializing in commercial law. The firm lists a number of prominent regional and national clients on its website.

The PAC has also spent a little more than $35,000 on website development and marketing software.

Other than two post office expenditures for under $250, and less than $2,000 for accounting services, the only other expense is for research services.

The FEC has paid $56,000 to New York-based McLaughlin & Associates for research. If that firm rings a bell, it might be because they have dozens of corporate clients ranging from Outback Steakhouse to Philip Morris to the New York Jets. But, it is more likely you have heard of the group because of its work with prominent Republican politicians. Notable names include former President Donald Trump and former Florida Gov. and current US Senator Rick Scott.

McLaughlin & Associates offers a wide variety of research services as well as having extensive experience running political campaigns, both for individual candidates and surrounding issues.

In Florida, $20 million is not going to cut it

As Matthew Kredell outlined, the costs associated with getting a ballot measure through are tremendous from a labor perspective alone. Counties like Miami-Dade charge $0.54 per signature in order to verify them.

But, this campaign is setting up to be the Super Bowl of constitutional amendment fights.

In the 2020 election, six measures made the ballot. How? They met the preliminary steps and collected the requisite number of signatures, which in 2022 will be more the 890,000.

Of the six measures that made the ballot, four were citizen initiatives like the one being proposed by the FEC.

As an illustration:

  • Amendment 1: Saw $8 million expended in support of the initiative and $0 spent in opposition. It passed with more than 79% of the vote.
  • Amendment 2: Raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour. It scraped by the 60% threshold with 60.82% of the vote. But, the campaign featured relatively one-sided funding. Supports raised a little more than $6.2 million, and opponents only spent about $720,000.

2022 initiative not shaping up to be like either of those campaigns

The 2018 Amendment 3, which received 71.47% of the vote in favor of Floridians having to sign off on casino expansion, is our best vantage point for a recent comparison. That campaign saw the Voters in Charge PAC backed by the Seminole Tribe, Disney and No Casinos spend $46 million compared to about $1.75 million to get the measure passed.

This campaign is almost certainly going to be far more expensive. The Seminoles saved a substantial amount of money after suspending payments to Florida following its breach of the previous compact. It is unclear how much DraftKings and FanDuel are willing to pony up to push this amendment through. While $20 million won’t be enough, they can likely expect to find some additional support from like-minded operators.

Las Vegas Sands has already entered the fray in Florida with a ballot measure of their own that seeks to authorize new casinos and a $17 million war chest to start things off. The Magic City Casino folks have launched their own initiative cleverly dubbed People Against Regulatory Legislation Addressing You — or PARLAY — and put $15 million behind the initiative.

Things are about to ramp up

For their part, the Seminole Tribe has put $10 million into Voters In Charge and will seek to have success in 2022, as the PAC did in 2018.

Only this time, the PAC will be on the other side of these initiatives.

The only sure thing seems to be that this is shaping up to be one of the most expensive ballot initiative fights in Florida’s history.

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John Holden

John Holden is an Ottawa native raised in Oakville. Holding a J.D. / Ph.D., Holden is an academic at heart. For PlayFL, Holden will focus mostly on the legal developments in the current battle over Florida sports betting.

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