U.S. House Votes Again to End Public Financing of Campaigns

The Republican-controlled U.S. House, voted for the second time this year to end public financing of presidential campaigns and the political party conventions.

The House approved the measure today, 235-190. The Democratic-controlled Senate declined to take up the similar legislation the House passed in January and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said the new bill would be shelved.

The current bill also would eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which provides aid to states and localities to improve their voting processes, and transfer those functions to the Federal Election Commission.

The House vote broke almost entirely along party lines, with one Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, opposing the measure and no Democrat favoring it. The two House Republicans running for president, Michele Bachmann of Minnesota and Ron Paul of Texas, missed the vote.

House Republicans cite the need to cut government spending as their rationale for eliminating the public financing system created following the Watergate scandal that led to the resignation of Republican President Richard Nixon in 1974. The Congressional Budget Office has said eliminating public financing would save $617 million over 10 years.

“We’re talking about eliminating a program that no candidate is currently using,” said Representative Gregg Harper, a Mississippi Republican and the measure’s chief sponsor. “Everyone talks about tough choices. These choices are not even very tough.”

Obama Opposition

President Barack Obama’s budget office said the administration “strongly opposes” the measure.

Reid, a Nevada Democrat, said “of course” when asked by reporters today if the measure was a “non-starter” in the Senate. He said Republicans want to do “everything they can to make it harder to vote.”

None of the candidates now running for president has requested federal funds for their primary campaigns, said Judith Ingram, an FEC spokeswoman.

Representative Robert Brady, a Pennsylvania Democrat, said the Election Assistance Commission is needed because of efforts by Republican-controlled legislatures in several states to impose new voting requirements and limit early voting.

“Who will ensure that everyone has an opportunity to cast a ballot?” Brady said.

Obama in 2008 became the first major-party nominee to decline federal funding for the general election. He also isn’t taking federal funds for his 2012 re-election bid.

Convention Funding

The FEC said last month that the Republican and Democratic parties received $17.7 million each in taxpayer funds for their 2012 conventions. The Republicans will convene in Tampa, Florida, from Aug. 27-30, and the Democrats will meet in Charlotte, North Carolina, from Sept. 3-6.

Advocates of public financing said Congress should increase the amount of public funds a candidate could receive, especially following the surge of outside spending in the 2010 campaign after a Supreme Court ruling removed limits on corporate and union political spending.

“We’ve seen spending by outside organizations spiral out of control and we need an alternative that protects our democracy,” said Lisa Gilbert, deputy director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, a Washington-based group that favors stronger campaign finance laws.

House Democrats have introduced legislation to provide more federal funds to presidential candidates and eliminate state-by- state spending limits.

Watergate

The financing program was enacted after Nixon resigned amid revelations about his role in covering up a 1972 break-in at Democratic headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex in Washington. The investigation uncovered illegal activities funded by some of the unregulated private donations to Nixon’s 1972 re-election campaign.

The current financing program matches the first $250 of each individual contribution for presidential candidates who are willing to limit their spending in primaries. In the general election, the major-party nominees receive a lump sum if they agree to forgo private fundraising except to cover legal and accounting costs.

Fewer Americans are contributing to the system. Just 6.6 percent of taxpayers diverted $3 from their income tax payments in 2010, down from a high of 28.7 percent in 1980, when the check-off was $1, Internal Revenue Statistics show.

Republican George W. Bush in 2000 became the first major- party candidate to win a presidential nomination while not taking federal matching funds for the primaries. Since then, no nominee has.

Democrat Obama funded his entire campaign through $745.7 million in private donations. His Republican opponent, Senator John McCain of Arizona, received $84.1 million from the government for his general election campaign after raising $219.6 million during the primaries.

The bill is H.R. 3463.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jonathan D. Salant in Washington at jsalant@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva at msilva34@bloomberg.net

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