Below is an editorial from today’s Washington Post editorial entitled,"System of publicly funding presidential campaigns needs a serious fix."
Also below is an editorial from today’s Los Angeles Times entitled, "You can’t rush reform."
The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times editorials argue against House passage of legislation to repeal the presidential public financing system, which is scheduled for a House vote tomorrow.
The Washington Post
System of publicly funding presidential campaigns needs a serious fix
January 25, 2011
WHAT DO Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter and John McCain have in common? All three – and others as well – fueled their presidential campaigns with federal matching funds. Absent that money, they might not have been able to mount serious primary efforts, and the political landscape would have been less competitive as a result.
The system of presidential public financing was set up in the aftermath of Watergate and worked well for a long time. During primary seasons, federal matching funds – the first $250 of every contribution is matched on a dollar-for-dollar basis – helped sustain a more vibrant field of candidates. During general elections, full public financing for candidates who elect not to raise private funds eased the pressure on them to raise funds rather than connect with voters and reduced the influence of high-dollar bundlers. But the system is broken, the victim of spending limits that have not kept pace with the cost of modern campaigns and the new fundraising capacity unleashed by the Internet. In 2008, President Obama became the first candidate since the system was established to win the presidency solely with private money. He pledged at the time that he was "firmly committed to reforming the system as president, so that it’s viable in today’s campaign climate," but on that subject he hasn’t been heard from since.
That’s bad enough, but even worse is the planned move this week by House Republicans to abolish the presidential public financing system entirely. Leave aside that this proposal is being brought up without the benefit of committee hearings or serious debate. On the merits, it’s a terrible idea. The potential cost savings are minimal – $520 million over 10 years, according to Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). The potential damage is huge. The last thing that the political system needs is having presidential candidates devote even more time to raising money and enhancing the influence of well-connected bundlers.
If anything, in the wake of ill-considered Supreme Court rulings that have paved the way for more campaign spending by outside interest groups, wealthy donors and corporations, the need for rehabbing the presidential funding system is even greater than during the 2008 campaign. Fix the system – don’t junk it.
The Los Angeles Times
You can’t rush reform
January 25, 2011
The Republican majority in the House wants to quickly – too quickly – repeal the system of public financing of presidential campaigns.
Just as it voted to repeal healthcare reform without first holding hearings, the new Republican majority in the House is rushing to repeal the system of public financing of presidential campaigns. The vote, scheduled for Wednesday, is designed to show that Republicans are serious about cutting government spending. Public financing does deserve another legislative look 35 years after it was first used to diminish candidates’ reliance on large donors and special-interest groups, but it shouldn’t be the victim of a stampede.
Currently, presidential candidates are eligible for public funds to pay for their campaigns in exchange for an agreement to abide by spending limits. As several campaign reform groups pointed out in a letter to members of the House, every Republican presidential nominee from 1976 to 2008 used the public financing system to fund his general election campaign, as did every Democratic nominee except Barack Obama.
They also argued that public financing has served to increase the number of viable candidates and to promote competition. They cited the example of Ronald Reagan, who "was able to capitalize on his small-donor fundraising capacity to accrue substantial sums of public money." Reagan wasn’t the only candidate to leverage private contributions to obtain public funding — and visibility.
Nevertheless, problems with the system have developed over time. One is that the payments are so low that they discourage participation in the program. Another is that candidates can raise sufficient funds without having to abide by the spending limits that come with public funds. That explains Obama’s decision to refuse public funding. Finally, the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case has made expenditure limits less important; even if a campaign abides by limits, the candidates’ allies will be able to flood the airwaves.
All of these developments have inspired a major rethinking among campaign reform advocates. One result is legislation proposed by Reps. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and David E. Price (D-N.C.) that would end spending limits but increase the role of small donors by giving candidates a 4-to-1 match for contributions of $200 or less. That proposal and others, including abolition of public financing, deserve a fair hearing before the 2012 campaign begins in earnest. Meanwhile, the House should leave the present system alone.