Friday, February 4, 2011

Presidential Election Funding Bill Introduced in the US House

Occasionally FHQ will wade into discussions on campaign finance or campaign finance reform and typically those instances are reserved for times a consequential loophole has been discovered and utilized or when new legislation is introduced to deal with the perceived problems within the system. And hey, go ahead and throw in a reference or two to the Citizens United decision while you're at it. But as was the case with the congressional election funding system proposed during the 2009 session of the 111th Congress, David Price's (D-NC, 4th district) revamped presidential election funding bill (HR 414) that was introduced on January 25 is likely going nowhere fast. This is even clearer given that the Republican Party now controls the House and furthermore that the party just voted to eliminate the system altogether as a means of cutting costs.

But let us set those realities to the side for a moment and look at the new provisions within the bill on the merits. The key with any bill on the campaign finance front is that it offer prospective candidates enough of a carrot that they voluntarily opt into the system in the first place. In other words, if a candidate has to think about whether he or she can out-raise the new limits then the battle has already been lost. Here are some of the highlights:

In the primaries phase:
  • The dollar for dollar match from the federal coffers jumps to a 4:1 ratio. For every dollar raised, the federal government matches with four. This was the same ratio that was used in the congressional funding system from 2009.
  • The US government will match up to $100 million. If, as a candidate, you can raise $25 million, then you get $100 million from the government funding system. That $125 million sum -- which would/could be available six months prior to the first delegate selection event -- sounds reasonably sufficient until you see that Obama was able to raise that $25 million in the first quarter of 2007 and was just getting started at that point. In a crowded field with multiple frontrunners that might work, but that doesn't happen all that often.
  • Contributions limits are adjusted based on inflation, but the overall caps on what the government will match do not.
In the general election phase:
  • The bill includes a repeal of federal funding of national party conventions. This is strange to me. I get the intent, but if you are going to argue that the parties should fund this, should not the argument also be made that parties should handle the funding of candidates as well? Both are party business after all. [Yes, there are several attendant conflicts on the latter point, but it should not go unmentioned.]
  • To receive any general election matching funds a candidate must have participated in the primary matching phase.
  • The cap on what the government will match is $150 million ($50 million plus a 4:1 match capped at $100 million). That's approximately double what McCain got in 2008 and about the same amount that Obama raised in September 2008 alone.
The campaign finance system may be worth saving, but it will ultimately take more than baby carrots to entice candidates into the program in the first place. There is a lot more to this bill (have a look yourself), but given the comparatively low caps and the fact that the Republican-controlled House will never go for this, HR 414 is destined to die in committee. Still, it represents something interesting at which to look.

Are you following FHQ on Twitter and/or Facebook? Click on the links to join in.

No comments: