Just over a year after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision on campaign finance, the House Wednesday passed a Republican- sponsored bill to eliminate the public financing of presidential campaigns and party conventions.
Republican supporters said the legislation would reduce the deficit by cutting $617 million over 10 years. Democrats countered that the legislation would expand the Citizens United decision that allowed corporate entities to fund independent political ads and decrease the power of individuals in elections.
The White House budget office released a statement in opposition to the bill stating the effect of the legislation would be “to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the Nation’s elections; to force many candidates into an endless cycle of fundraising at the expense of engagement with voters on the issues; and to place a premium on access to large donor or special interest support, narrowing the field of otherwise worthy candidates.”
Several members criticized President Obama for opposing the bill because his 2008 campaign opted out of public financing and instead raised record funds through individual donors. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., said Obama broke his pledge to participate in the program she called “outdated.”
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., said “The idea that Americans need this program in order to support candidates is absurd. It’s not 1971 anymore.” Republican members called on passage of the legislation as a way to reduce the federal deficit. Maryland Rep. Roscoe Barlett, R-Frederick, was one of the bill’s 20 co-sponsors.
Under current law, citizens may check a box on their tax return to designate $3 to a fund for distribution to candidates who meet certain eligibility requirements. Candidates must agree to funding limits and must meet certain reporting requirements by the Federal Election Commission.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Kensington, spoke in opposition to the bill. “Rather than presidential candidates trafficking in secret slush funds our nation decided that our democracy would be better served by a system of public disclosure, contribution limits, and emphasis on smaller dollar contributions, matched by the presidential financing fund,” he said.
Van Hollen called for a revision rather than elimination of the 1974 tax code provision that established the program. He and Rep. David Price, D-N.C., introduced legislation to amend the current law.
Several Democratic members expressed concern that the end of public financing would increase the power of special interests in elections. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., said the bill added “insult to the injury” of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision last year. “Now my Republican colleagues propose to further erode whatever protections our government has left against a state of democracy for the highest bidder,” she said.
Ten Democratic members voted in favor of the legislation which passed the House with a vote of 239-160.
-By Capital News Service’s Laura E. Lee