Lawmakers contemplate ‘millionaire’s amendment’ for presidential campaigns

With former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) spending millions on his White House bid, lawmakers on Capitol Hill are weighing the possibility of adding a “millionaire’s amendment” to presidential campaign finance reform measures.

Romney, whose wealth is estimated to be about $200 million, has pumped $17.5 million into his presidential bid through three quarters, leaving less wealthy candidates at a distinct disadvantage.

“It is a very sad thing that the system that worked so well for 40 years has fallen into disrepair,” Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) told The Hill. Feingold, whose name is linked to Sen. John McCainJohn Sidney McCainWhat to watch for in Biden Defense pick's confirmation hearing The best way to handle veterans, active-duty military that participated in Capitol riot Cindy McCain on possible GOP censure: 'I think I'm going to make T-shirts' MORE’s (R-Ariz.) for their work on the 2002 campaign finance reform bill, supports publicly funded White House campaigns.

McCain, running for president for the second time, told The Hill it would be interesting to consider adding a provision that would help White House candidates like himself, who run against wealthy opponents like Romney, to compete fairly.

“I think it’s clear that there’s going to be a lot of personal money spent not just by Gov. Romney, but by others in this race,” McCain said. “McCain-Feingold was aimed at congressional elections, but maybe something like the millionaire’s amendment should be applicable,” he added.

The millionaire’s amendment, as it applies to Senate races, states that if a candidate exceeds the statutory threshold by 10 times, then the cap on the amount of money other candidates can accept from a single donor can be raised.

Senate Majority Whip Dick DurbinDick DurbinOfficials brace for second Trump impeachment trial Sunday shows - Capital locked down ahead of Biden's inauguration Durbin says he won't whip votes for Trump's second impeachment trial MORE (D-Ill.), the author of the original millionaire’s amendment in McCain-Feingold, said the idea of Congress passing this provision for presidential campaigns was “very interesting and something to think about.”

Critics of campaign finance reform disagree.

Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, denounced McCain-Feingold, calling it a “rich man’s bill” that had the opposite effect of what it was intended for. “Before Mr. Feingold tries to pass another bill, he must first apologize for the first Feingold bill,” Norquist said. He added that in terms of the millionaire’s amendment, mistakes should not be tinkered with.

Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), who plans to introduce legislation reforming the campaign-financing system for presidential campaigns, said, “The cost of the 2008 presidential election is predicted to exceed a billion dollars. Congress must act to salvage the outdated public financing system that is on the verge of obsolescence.” The lawmaker added that his bill would “modernize the public financing system and make it viable for the 2012 election cycle.”

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.), who along with Sen. Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaBiden faces monumental task healing divided country Garth Brooks to play at Biden swearing-in ceremony Obama honors MLK Day: 'He never gave in to violence, never waved a traitorous flag' MORE (D-Ill.) has raised record amounts of money, has repeatedly declared that she will strongly support public financing as president. However, for this cycle, the former first lady has opted out of the public funding system, as has Obama. Of the top presidential aspirants, only former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) is a potential recipient of public funds beginning in January. McCain is still weighing his options.

At Tuesday night’s Democratic debate, Sen. Chris Dodd (Conn.) brought up the issue of campaign finance reform for presidential campaigns, expressing his strong support for a system that would be funded through taxpayer money so as not to create a disadvantage for some candidates.

Supporters of campaign finance reform say that relatively low spending limits, the need to spend more money early because of a front-loaded primary system, and the front-runners collecting tens of millions of dollars in contributions are among the factors working to the disadvantage of candidates opting to accept public money.

Paul RyanPaul Davis RyanRevising the pardon power — let the Speaker and Congress have voices Paul Ryan will attend Biden's inauguration COVID-19 relief bill: A promising first act for immigration reform MORE, associate legal counsel to the Campaign Legal Center (CLC), said if presidential elections were to adopt the version of the millionaire’s amendment that applies to congressional campaigns, candidates like McCain and former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) could have their contribution levels increased from $2,300 to $13,800 because Romney has spent so much of his own money.

Though CLC has never opposed the millionaire’s amendment for presidential elections, Ryan said that increasing the contribution limits may not be the best way to help a candidate compete with what a wealthy opponent is contributing to his or her own campaign.

“I’d rather see such a non-wealthy candidate have access to a repaired presidential public financing system and rely on public funds instead of large private contributions,” Ryan said. He added that large contributions would lead to further corruption in the campaigning system.

John Samples, director of the Center for Government Reform for the CATO Institute and author of the 2006 book The Fallacy of Campaign Finance Reform, said that the millionaire’s amendment was “hypocritical” and that public financing in general doesn’t work.

“Democrats would have a meltdown,” Samples said. He stressed that under public financing, challengers would raise more money than others and challengers would have more resources to compete. “I don’t believe that voters should be compelled to pay taxes for people they don’t necessarily like in the election,” Samples added.

Asked if the millionaire’s amendment would increase corruption in presidential campaigns, Samples stated that there is “little evidence that contribution limits cause corruption and no evidence that money pollutes political campaigns.”