House Votes to Repeal Presidential Public Financing: Statement of Meredith McGehee, Campaign Legal Center Policy Director
Today’s vote to repeal the Presidential Public Financing system is a setback for our democratic process, upping the opening bids for special interests seeking to elect a President willing to do their bidding. The creation of the presidential public financing system stems directly from the scandals of the Nixon White House. The investigation of the Watergate break-in led to the discovery of secret slush funds and literal bags of money solicited and disbursed by President Richard Nixon’s White House. That is not an era to which we want to return yet in essence that is what a ‘yes’ vote today is inviting. Today’s vote was a vote of the party of Nixon, not the party of Lincoln and certainly not the party of Teddy Roosevelt.
This seems a short-sighted move for a political party that has made an icon of President Ronald Reagan who benefitted immensely from the system and probably owes his election to the Presidency to the system. The system was the only thing that allowed him to make a credible run in the 1976 primaries against President Gerald Ford and cement his status as a front runner for the 1980 nomination. The 35-year-old system was utilized by every Republican and Democratic nominee for President in the primaries and nearly all of their rivals until George W. Bush opted out in 2000 and in every general election until Barack Obama did not participate in 2008.
The Presidential Public Financing System should be strengthened and modernized as proposed in recently introduced Presidential Funding Act. The bill from Representatives David Price (D-NC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) modernizes system for presidential campaigns and enhances the influence of small donors in U.S. elections. Their bill is a forward-looking bill while the repeal vote today chooses simply to ignore the past which would seem to doom us to repeat it.
Fortunately the Senate and President Obama stand in the way of any actual repeal of the presidential public financing system. But regrettably those who voted ‘yes’ today voted to increase the role of monied special interests and wealthy individuals in our political process and are standing in the school house door to block efforts to modernize the system to keep pace with the evolution of presidential elections.