Legislation that is expected to reach the House floor this week would give corporations and other large donors a greater role in presidential elections by dismantling the public campaign finance system.
Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK) introduced a bill that would end public financing of presidential elections on the anniversary of the infamous Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision. The bill, HR 359, would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund and the Presidential Primary Matching Payment Account. It currently has 18 cosponsors, all of whom are Republican.
“A vote for HR 359 is a great way to tell the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans,” David Arkush, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, warned in a prepared statement.
The Citizens United decision overturned nearly a century of restrictions on campaign spending, allowing corporations, unions and other groups to spend unlimited amounts on political campaigns without having to identify themselves. In a 5-4 decision last year, the US Supreme Court ruled that restrictions on spending amounted to a violation of First Amendment rights.
The decision allowed a torrential downpour of private dollars into the November midterm elections, with interest groups spending over $80 million on the elections, up from just $16 million in 2006.
The Obama administration said Tuesday that it strongly opposed HR 359, arguing the public financing system should be fixed rather than completely dismantled.
“The Presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the Nation elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests,” the White House insisted.
“Rather than candidates having to rely on raising large sums of private money in order to run, the system provides qualifying presidential candidates with the option of accepting matching funds in the primary and a public grant in the general election.”
In order to accept the public funds under the current system, candidates must agree not to use private donations in the fall campaign, which sets a limit on the amount of money they can accumulate.
Every Republican and Democratic presidential nominee from 1976 to 2008 has used the public financing system to fund his or her election campaign, with one exception, Barack Obama.
“H.R. 359 would kill the system, not strengthen it,” the statement added. “Its effect would be to expand the power of corporations and special interests in the Nations 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.”
Legislation to amend the presidential public financing system was introduced in the last congressional session by Reps. David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD). Their bill would end spending limits but aid small donors by giving candidates a 4-to-1 match for contributions of $200 or less.
“Make no mistake about it: The Republican leadership’s legislation to eliminate public financing is an attack not just on the presidential public financing system, but also an attack on congressional public financing proposals,” Craig Holman, governmental affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen, said. “To ensure that the public’s voice can be heard against the corporate onslaught, we need to expand public financing of elections, not kill it.”
According to the Congressional Budget Office, eliminating the public financing of presidential elections would save $617 million over the next 10 years, a fact noted on Twitter by Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner Tuesday.