House passes bill eliminating public financing
January 26th, 2011
05:49 PM ET
12 years ago

House passes bill eliminating public financing

Washington (CNN) - The House of Representatives voted Wednesday to eliminate the federal public financing system that helps pay for presidential campaigns and political conventions.

The vote was 239-160. Ten Democrats voted with the Republicans to pass the bill.

The House bill, sponsored by Oklahoma Republican Rep Tom Cole, would eliminate the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. This voluntary public financing system was created in 1976, in the wake of the Watergate scandal, to lessen the influence of corporate money on campaigns. Taxpayers can check off a box on their tax returns directing $3 in federal money to the program. Candidates who apply for public financing must adhere to overall spending limits.

According to an estimate from the Congressional Budget Office released Monday, ending the program would save $617 million over the next ten years. Money currently in the fund–$195 million–cannot be used for other purposes, so zeroing out the program would transfer those dollars to the Treasury.

Cole pointed out that President Obama himself chose not to use the public financing fund in the 2008 general election. Cole said Obama admits the system needs to be reformed, but questioned how serious the president is about fixing it.

"If the President really cared about it that much he'd either have a proposal of his own or be willing to live under the system that he wants other people to adhere to," Cole told CNN after the House vote.

Democrats argued that system should be reformed, not repealed, because public financing puts candidate from both parties on a more even playing field. They maintain that ending the program would force candidates to depend on private sources to finance their campaigns, giving corporations more power in the political arena.

During the House debate California Democrat Lynn Woolsey said, "Special interest money is having a corrosive effect on our Democracy, eating away at the people's confidence in their government and their elected representatives. The one beacon of light in this system is the public financing of presidential campaigns. It is, I would remind everyone, a voluntary system."

Pressed why Republicans want to get rid of a program that's optional, Cole told CNN the public financing system was created before campaigns starting raising contributions on the internet, and it's not needed anymore.

"The President himself has shown how obsolete this system is. It's very easy for people who want to give to any candidate to do that," Cole said.

The Obama administration released a statement officially opposing the bill on Tuesday.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell introduced an identical version of the bill on Wednesday. In a speech on the Senate floor McConnell argued Americans want to reduce the deficit, not underwrite campaigns. "In a time of exploding deficits and record debt the last thing the American people want right now is to provide what amounts to welfare for politicians."

Public Finance Action Fund, a non partisan group pushing for public financing at the state and federal levels, released a statement opposing GOP efforts to dismantle the system. "These efforts are not about saving taxpayer money, they are about giving corporate donors even more access than they enjoy today. We hope these measures don't advance any further."

According to the Federal Election Commission, which administers the program, participation among taxpayers has dropped significantly since it started – with nearly 29 percent of taxpayers checking off money for the fund in 1980 to about 8 percent in 2007.

Cole said he's opposed to any public financing of political campaigns or party conventions, but he conceded that since it's the law he understands why GOP candidates still apply for the public money.

Two potential GOP 2012 presidential hopefuls - Indiana Rep Mike Pence and Minnesota Rep Michele Bachmann - both voted for the bill on Wednesday.

During the 2008 presidential election cycle the federal fund paid out $139 million, down from $240 million in the 2004 election. The FEC reports that this was the lowest drop since the start of the program.

Filed under: Campaign finance • House
soundoff (20 Responses)
  1. artraveler

    And this did what about their "top priorit"y-jobs, jobs, jobs? More paper-spinning!

    January 26, 2011 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  2. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    How do you spell V E T O.

    January 26, 2011 05:53 pm at 5:53 pm |
  3. diridi

    also pass anti-lobby, senate and congress term limits...o.k, it is a that thugs will not be senate or congressmen for years it and talk...........

    January 26, 2011 05:56 pm at 5:56 pm |
  4. MM

    How sad, this is actually where we need goverment oversight. Now money will influence more than ever. While we don't want to place too much trust in Goverment, I do not see how trusting corporations will be ANY better for American populace.

    January 26, 2011 05:57 pm at 5:57 pm |
  5. Monster Zero

    Why not just simply limit all campaigns to X number of hours paid for with tax dollars at a set rate on Public broadcast networks and a 2 million dollar cap? Remove the "Special interests" entirely, and while at it why not pass voter reform that if you get certain type of tax funded entitlements (like welfare) from tax dollars you don't "earn" the right to vote, and what about those pesky old term limits and let's not forget about an age limit for Congressman?? I mean Sen. Byrd was crapping his pants and drooling on himself for the last ten years of his service....who needs Hollywood reality shows when there is Congress to watch?

    January 26, 2011 05:58 pm at 5:58 pm |
  6. Moon

    Great. Get rid of it.

    January 26, 2011 06:02 pm at 6:02 pm |
  7. PassingThru

    One more move to privatize public elections. Way to go!

    January 26, 2011 06:07 pm at 6:07 pm |
  8. George Guadiane - Austerlitz, NY

    People who donate to the fund are not donating to any single candidate, they are donating to the FUND.
    The purpose of the fund is probably many fold... Partly to TRY and reduce pay for play politics, partly to support the process without selecting a candidate and partly to offer people who haven't gotten a good grass roots movement going.

    January 26, 2011 06:09 pm at 6:09 pm |
  9. Donnatella

    I hope the president veto's it, give them a taste of their own medicine.

    January 26, 2011 06:14 pm at 6:14 pm |
  10. Jeff B

    How in God's name is a program that gets its money from voluntary contributions from one's federal tax return going to reduce the deficit if its eliminated? As soon as its eliminated no one is going to contribute anymore!! The leftover money that goes back to the Treasury would be a one time deal only.

    Let's call a spade a spade–the Republicans want ALL campaign money to be raised by private sources because they get a lot more money from their base–BIG BUSINESS. And thanks to the Supreme Court they can now get an unlimited amount.Conservative Republicans are too cowardly to say it in public but what many of them actually believe is that people and companies with a lot of money should have a larger say in our democracy than those with little money. They think because these people contribute more to the "productivity" of the economy that they should have more of a say than the rest of us. They basically want an economic "aristocracy" or "plutocracy" if you will. And don't try and tell me that the money contributed to these candidates doesn't influence their vote. These big contributors are not stupid.

    January 26, 2011 06:18 pm at 6:18 pm |
  11. Sniffit

    ""If the President really cared about it that much he'd either have a proposal of his own or be willing to live under the system that he wants other people to adhere to," Cole told CNN after the House vote."

    Nobody has to donate to the's VOLUNTARY. Moreover, nobody has to atke their campaign money from the's VOLUNTARY. There's no "adhere" about it...not for where the money comes from and not for who accepts it. This is a total corporatocratic BJ spin job on the part of the GOP machine and it telegraphs that what you're going to see for the next two years is the GOP ingratiating themselves obscenely to coroprate special interests in a play for 2012. Between this and Citizens United, your vote might as well not count. Too many people out there are defenseless against the misinformation campaigns.

    January 26, 2011 06:28 pm at 6:28 pm |
  12. Video Guy

    How about this idea. The house and senate members can get money for campaigns from individuals only (cap at $2500..) within their district or state for the senate guys. The individuals giving the money must be of voting age and live within the district. The house can run and serve in the house two terms only within a lifetime. The Senate two terms only within a lifetime. No retirement from this service.

    January 26, 2011 06:29 pm at 6:29 pm |
  13. PacificView

    Now special interests and corporations can take full control of our political campaigns. What a landmark achievement!

    January 26, 2011 06:39 pm at 6:39 pm |
  14. Aezel

    LOL Republicans get in power in congress and the FIRST thing they do is try and eliminate a completely voluntary fund that tries to lessen corporate control of elections. They are trying to tell you you can't volunteer your own money. Thanks for interfering in my financial life some more, and giving greedy corporations control of politics. Keep it up Republicans, 2012 is getting closer and closer.

    January 26, 2011 06:53 pm at 6:53 pm |
  15. guy from NM

    The corporate barons do not have enough, and with the help of the treasonous Repugnants, they will take it all. No need to vote anymore, imagine the $ saved. So sickening !

    January 26, 2011 06:59 pm at 6:59 pm |
  16. Linsey

    Wow. We need campaign finance reform, but this is NOT the answer! Overturn the Citizens United decision!!!!

    January 26, 2011 07:30 pm at 7:30 pm |
  17. T'sah from Virginia

    Is that the $3 you can check on your 1040 tax return that goes towards campaigning?? If so, I never checked it anyway so....

    January 26, 2011 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  18. Poser

    This bill isn't about reducing the deficit. Saving a couple of hundred million dollars is a lot for an individual but is a tiny fraction of the deficit. We have a deficit of hundreds of billions. This represents 0.1% of that.
    Politicians should have a choice between public or private financing of their campaigns. Now that corporations can donate unlimited funds to candidates, this probably doesn't matter anyway. We will have a Government that is increasingly bought and paid for by big donors rather than by We the People. Whether your conservative, independent, or liberal, this really isn't good for our democracy.

    January 26, 2011 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  19. Bill

    So whatever happened to the GOPs promise to focus on JOBS, JOBS, JOBS?

    January 26, 2011 08:01 pm at 8:01 pm |
  20. michaelam

    Making corruption easier one bill at a time!
    Hey Boehner!!!! Where are the jobs? The American people have spoken and they want jobs! Jobs, jobs, jobs!

    January 26, 2011 08:43 pm at 8:43 pm |