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Romney Shunning Federal Funds in Post-Watergate Election

With Mitt Romney raising private funds for the fall campaign, this year’s presidential election will be the first since the Watergate scandal in which neither major party’s nominee accepts federal funding.

Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, will raise money from private donors at an event in Arlington, Virginia, next week, soliciting contributions for the general election.

The former Massachusetts governor has set up a joint fundraising committee with the Republican National Committee and four state parties to solicit individual contributions of as much as $75,000 to be divided among the campaign, national party and state organizations, an invitation to the May 2 fundraiser at a suburban Washington hotel shows.

“Our campaign is raising private funds for the general election,” said Ryan Williams, a campaign spokesman.

This will permit Romney to raise much more than the $91.2 million he would collect under the federal election funding program initiated after the Watergate scandal. President Barack Obama also is raising re-election funding privately.

“We have come full circle to the Watergate era when presidential candidates were totally beholden to special interests and the wealthy,” said Craig Holman of Public Citizen, a Washington-based advocacy group that supports stronger campaign finance laws. “The presidential public financing system had worked so well, and it is major loss to the integrity of our elections to have no one participate.”

Obama’s Example

All the money Romney has reported raising through March 31 was for the Republican primary contest, which has effectively ended with the withdrawals of rivals Rick Santorum on April 10 and Newt Gingrich next week from the party’s contest. Texas Representative Ron Paul remains as a candidate who has won none of the party’s state primaries or caucuses.

Sticking with private fundraising, Romney joins Obama, who didn’t collect federal money for his election campaign four years ago, in declining taxpayer support for the presidential election. Until now, at least one major-party nominee had taken federal funds and agreed to spending limits in every election since the 1976 contest.

Public financing was enacted by Congress after President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 amid revelations about his role in covering up a 1972 break-in at Democratic National Committee 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 re-election campaign.

Moving Off Sidelines

The campaign is aiming to raise $800 million for the fall election campaign, including donations to the Republican National Committee and the state parties, said former U.S. Ambassador Mel Sembler, who is raising money for Romney.

“Now that we know who the candidate is, a lot of people who were sitting on the sidelines are no longer sitting on the sidelines,” said Sembler, a shopping center developer in St. Petersburg, Florida. “People are enthusiastic. We have a candidate and they’re ready to go.”

Then-Vice President Al Gore in 2000 became the last major-party nominee to take federal funds for the primary campaigns, in which the government matches small donations.

Arizona Senator John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, was the last to take federal money for the general election, in which the government finances the entire campaign and the candidate raises no private money except to pay legal and accounting expenses.

House Republicans have voted to eliminate public financing for elections, while proponents have introduced legislation to increase the amount of federal dollars for campaigns and remove restrictions on spending.

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