Below is an editorial from today’s USA TODAY entitled, "Our view on elections: Public campaign finance in danger."

Similar editorials supporting the presidential public financing system and calling for it to be repaired, not repealed, have run in The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times.

The USA TODAY editorial supports reforming the presidential public financing system and opposes efforts in the Senate to repeal it, which are being led by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, a longtime opponent of campaign finance laws. The House last week in a partisan vote passed legislation to end the presidential  financing system.

According to the USA TODAY editorial:


The system Republicans are bent on killing was inspired by the Nixon presidency when corporations secretly bought White House favors and rich donors bought ambassadorships. It was designed to provide public money for serious primary candidates and the major parties’ nominees so they’d be less prone to rely on special interests. And it has worked. 

Critics of the system argue that small donors still have a voice. But who’s kidding whom? Does anyone think a candidate pays as much attention to an Iowa teacher who gives $100 as to Goldman Sachs, whose employees showered Obama with $995,000?

A second argument is deficit reduction. Opponents say killing public financing would save $617 million over 10 years. Let’s get serious. The largesse doled out to get donations makes that look like chump change.

The editorial states that, "The checkoff system should be expanded, not repealed."


USA TODAY
Our view on elections: Public campaign finance in danger
Editorial
February 2, 2011


The Watergate scandal taught the nation quite a bit about government corruption. Now, one of the bigger lessons of that era is getting unlearned. Big money – corrupting money – is flooding back into presidential politics, and the only alternative, public campaign financing, appears to be fading away.

For starters, most taxpayers -who can strike a blow against special interests simply by checking a box on their tax returns – don’t bother. Further, President Obama, who says he is a major supporter of the 1974 reform that created the checkoff, shot it full of holes in his 2008 presidential bid by rejecting public financing in favor of bigger contributions. Republicans voted last week in the House to bury it. A similar measure will soon be before the Senate.

The system Republicans are bent on killing was inspired by the Nixon presidency when corporations secretly bought White House favors and rich donors bought ambassadorships. It was designed to provide public money for serious primary candidates and the major parties’ nominees so they’d be less prone to rely on special interests. And it has worked. Millions of taxpayers have checked the box on their returns that directs $3 to a public financing fund. It doesn’t cost them a cent. It simply redirects part of their tax bill.

In campaigns from 1976 through 2004, presidential nominees volunteered to participate. But in 2008, Obama, a prodigious fundraiser, opted out when it became clear he could raise far more than Republican nominee John McCain, who took $84 million in public financing. Obama’s decision was a blow to a system that long enjoyed Democratic support.

Which party will benefit in future elections is guesswork. The certainty is that the influence of special interests swells as public money disappears. The losers? Everyday Americans who can’t write big checks.

Critics of the system argue that small donors still have a voice. But who’s kidding whom? Does anyone think a candidate pays as much attention to an Iowa teacher who gives $100 as to Goldman Sachs, whose employees showered Obama with $995,000?

A second argument is deficit reduction. Opponents say killing public financing would save $617 million over 10 years. Let’s get serious. The largesse doled out to get donations makes that look like chump change.

The checkoff system should be expanded, not repealed. The $84 million McCain accepted in 2008 was dwarfed by more than $200 million Obama raised just in the campaign’s final months. But changing that math seems mostly a matter of raising public awareness, not overcoming opposition.

In the post-Watergate years, as many as 29% of taxpayers participated. A USA TODAY/Gallup Poll in 2008 found even greater support for the system. If that were reflected on tax returns, the fund would not only be strengthened but theoretically could also be extended to Congress, where big givers bankroll many incumbents’ campaigns. Not that Congress likes the idea.

This is a fight between politicians’ interests and the public interest. With the lessons of Watergate fading, the public interest appears headed for a rough ride.