Published January 25, 2011
WASHINGTON -- The Obama administration on Tuesday voiced strong opposition to a Republican-backed bill that would end the public financing system for presidential elections.
Obama was the only presidential nominee from either party since 1976 not to use the public financing system for the general election. But the White House, in a statement, said the system needs to be fixed rather than dismantled.
Eliminating it, the White House said, would "force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues."
The presidential election fund is financed by taxpayers who volunteer to direct $3 of their federal taxes to the system.
It has lost some relevance in recent years as the cost of campaigns has soared and nominees have been able to raise large sums of money by seeking online contributions and tapping rich donors.
Republicans in the House say the bill will be an early test of the administration's commitment to reducing the deficit. Passage by the GOP-controlled House is likely on Wednesday, but the bill's chances of moving through the Democratic-held Senate are slim.
The bill's sponsor, Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole, noted that Obama raised a record $745 million without accepting any federal assistance.
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund "is the very definition of frivolous Washington spending," he said, and "it's not a good sign that the Democrats are squealing about cutting a program only 7 percent of Americans support."
Reps. David Price, D-N.C., and Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., who have introduced legislation to modernize the public funding system, said the Cole bill would further open the floodgates to special interest money. They noted that the fund grew out of Watergate-era campaign spending scandals. "Let's not return to the darkest days of our democracy. We should be mending the system, not ending it," Price said.
A letter from Common Cause, Democracy 21 and other good government groups said the public financing system has served the country and presidential candidates of both parties well for most of its 35-year existence and "the system only began to decline when campaign costs outstripped the public financing provided to participating candidates."
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that ending the program would reduce direct federal spending by $617 million over the next decade.