Republicans Say Obama Should Take Public Funds or End Program

U.S. House Republicans called on President Barack Obama to either accept taxpayer financing of his campaign -- greatly limiting his ability to raise money privately -- or join them in urging an end to the public financing system that was adopted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

The House on Jan. 26 and again on Dec. 1 voted primarily along party lines to abolish public financing of presidential campaigns. Both times, the Obama administration issued statements opposing the repeal legislation. The Congressional Budget Office has said eliminating the system would save $617 million over 10 years.

“Here, your actions flatly contradict your words,” said today’s letter, signed by 84 Republicans, including Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, lead sponsor of the legislation that passed in January. “If you want to be taken seriously as an advocate for taxpayer financing of political campaigns, the only way to do it is to accept that financing, and the accompanying spending limits, yourself.”

Obama in 2008 became the first major party nominee to privately fund his entire campaign since Watergate, and he isn’t taking public funding for his re-election. Eric Schultz, a White House spokesman, had no immediate comment on the Republican statement.

Fewer Americans are contributing to the public financing system. Just 6.6 percent of taxpayers diverted $3 apiece from their income tax payments in 2010, compared with a high of 28.7 percent in 1980 when the check-off was $1, according to the Internal Revenue Service.

Nixon’s Resignation

The financing program was enacted after Republican President Richard Nixon resigned amid revelations about his role in covering up the 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 campaign.

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

Obama funded his 2008 race with $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 public financing program also provides money to the Republican and Democratic parties for their national conventions, $17.7 million in 2012. The Republicans will convene Aug. 27-30 in Tampa, Florida, and the Democrats will meet Sept. 3-6 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

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