Editorial: Time for real solutions
Everyone’s familiar with the phrase, "If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it." Apparently, the U.S. House of Representatives has come up with an amendment to that well-worn cliché: If it is broke, don’t fix it…just throw it away.
Last week, the House voted to repeal public financing of presidential campaigns. While the system is definitely broken, the solution is far more nuanced than that.
The Presidential Election Campaign Fund was created in 1974 in the wake of the scandal that rocked the nation after the Watergate break-in.
While many aspects of the case have become iconic—the "plumbers" from the White House breaking into Democratic headquarters, "Deep Throat," Wood-
ward and Bernstein—few today remember what perhaps was a bigger concern, a secret slush fund fueled by huge quantities of corporate cash that funded those illegal activities. Public financing was created as a way to rein in abuses and make presidential campaigns more accountable to citizens.
The problem remains and, if anything, has become even more pronounced. One of the reasons why the House has put the Presidential Election Campaign Fund on the chopping block is because it’s not being used that much. In 2000, President George W. Bush became the first major-party candidate to get nominated without taking the federal matching funds for the primaries. Since then, no party’s nominee has. In 2008, President Barack Obama became the first major-party nominee to turn down the money during the general election.
They turned down this money because they didn’t want to be shackled with fundraising limits. Presidential campaigns are extremely costly. Anyone who has turned on a TV set from September through Election Day during a presidential campaign year knows where most of that money has gone.
Instead of merely dismantling the Presidential Election Campaign Fund, Congress needs to come up with an alternative to solve the problem. Placing financial caps on campaigns or requiring FCC licensees to provide free or reduced-rate airtime to candidates are two options. The Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision to the contrary, there must be some way to place limits on overtly political campaign ads not specifically sanctioned by a party or candidate.
The Congressional Budget Office has determined that eliminating public financing of presidential campaigns would save taxpayers $617 million over 10 years. While this would mean a great deal to us as individuals, $60 million a year is a proverbial drop in the bucket as far as the federal government’s total spending is concerned.
Instead of symbolic, feel-good (and ultimately meaningless) legislation, Congress needs to roll up its sleeves and come up with real campaign finance reform so that the voices of all Americans are heard in Washington, not just those with the biggest bank accounts.