“The Federal Election Commission has just this week confirmed that no presidential candidate to date has opted to participate for the 2012 election,” Harper said on the House floor. “Mr. Chairman, we’re talking about eliminating the program that literally no candidate is currently using or preparing to use at this point.
Later in the debate, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) said the public campaign financing system was already “destroyed” by Obama’s decision to avoid it entirely.
“[Obama] refused to be bound by its restrictions,” Sensenbrenner said. “Sen. [John] McCain was, and he was put at a significant disadvantage in the general election campaign by running against candidate Obama, who rejected the election campaign fund’s funds, and raised huge and unlimited amounts of money.”
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) went further by saying Obama’s decision to forego public financing should be seen as his support for efforts to do away with the public financing system.
“I stand with our president, Barack Obama, on this issue, who found that fund is worthless, it’s an impediment to getting elected,” Gohmert said. “So I stand with President Obama in saying, let’s get rid of the fund and not use it any more, and let the $200 million in that fund go to something helpful instead of being an impediment to being elected president.”
The House is expected to approve Harper’s bill to end publicly financed campaigns later Thursday. The bill would also eliminate the Election Assistance Commission (EAC), which Republicans say has outlived its usefulness in ensuring states meet basic voting standards.
Democrats have argued that ending the EAC, put in place after the close and controversial 2000 presidential election, is akin to the Jim Crow laws used decades before to prevent blacks from voting.
“The only reason to want to eliminate them is to further suppress votes,” Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-Mo.) said of ending both the EAC and public financing of campaigns. “The votes are the same groups who were targeted by Jim Crow laws decades ago.”
Sensenbrenner rejected that argument.
“I can’t believe what I just heard from my friend from Missouri,” he said, adding that Harper’s bill is “not a Jim Crow law.”
Republicans have said that any remaining needed functions of the EAC can be picked up by the FEC. Harper reiterated that point and added that the the average annual salary at the EAC is $106,000.
— This story was updated at 1:40 p.m. and again at 2:14 p.m.