By Erik Wasson
The Obama administration offered its strong opposition Tuesday to GOP legislation ending federal funding of presidential campaigns.
“The administration strongly opposes House passage of H.R. 359 because it is critical that the nation’s presidential election public financing system be fixed rather than dismantled,” the administration said Tuesday in a statement of administration policy released by the Office of Management and Budget.
At the Rules Committee hearing, Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the sponsor of the bill, said that “the current system clearly doesn’t work” and “nobody in their right mind“ believes Obama will use it in 2012. He predicted that the 2012 Republican candidate will not use funding for the general election either.
“The only people going to miss it are Republican candidates running for president in 2012,” who will want the funding in the primaries, he acknowledged. But he nonetheless said the funding system is “irrelevant” and if it cannot be eliminated, Congress wil have a hard time cutting more important programs to balance the budget.
Rep. Dan Lungren (R-Calif.) testified that in 1980, 29 percent of taxpayers checked off the box and by 2009 only seven percent did. He argued that the declining participation rate means that the public does not support public financing of campaigns.
He argued that the law should be eliminated in part because it funded the candidacies of Lyndon LaRouche, who was considered an extremist.
Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) said there would be ways to make the system neutral with regards to the deficit. Currently, the $3 check-off comes out of taxes already owed. The form could be altered so that an additional $3 could be added to an individual’s taxes instead, he suggested.
It is unlikely that the bill would have a chance of passage in the Democratic Senate as a standalone bill, although it could hitch a ride on a larger spending measure and become law.
The administration warned that passing the bill would “expand the power of corporations and special interests in the nation’s elections,” and highlighted the Supreme Court's decision last year in the Citizens United case that lifted restrictions on corporate spending in campaigns.
“After a year in which the Citizens United decision rolled back a century of law to allow corporate interests to spend vast sums in the Nation’s elections and to do so without disclosing the true interests behind them, this is not the time to further empower the special interests or to obstruct the work of reform,” the statement said.
The statement illustrates President Obama's opposition to ending federal funding of presidential campaigns despite his decision in the 2008 campaign to not accept federal funding and use private donations instead.
H.R. 359 amends federal law to end the option taxpayers now have on their income tax forms to earmark part of their taxes for the Presidential Election Campaign Fund (PECF). It would also shut the fund and transfer remaining balances to the Treasury. GOP leadership considers the bill part of its effort to reduce the budget deficit.
Acceptance of federal funds forces candidates to agree not to use private donations in the fall campaign. It thereby effectively caps the amount they can spend.
Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) in the 2008 presidential campaign blasted Obama for pledging to use federal funds and then abandoning his pledge.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) late Monday estimated that a bill eliminating taxpayer funding for presidential elections would save $617 million over the next 10 years.
At the House Rules Committee Tuesday, Republicans hammered the president for declining federal dollars in 2008 and for failing to come up with any suggestions for improving the system in his first two years in office.
Asked about what concrete steps the president would take on improving campaign finance, the White House press office declined to offer further comment, saying it would let the statement of administration policy stand for itself.
This story was updated at 11:24 a.m. and 2:29 p.m.