"The public financing of presidential elections as it exists today is broken," then-Sen. Barack Obama said on June 19, 2008. He said this while telling the American public that he would be forgoing public financing for his presidential election. Had Obama not done so, his presidential campaign committee would have been subject to spending limits far below the $745 million it ultimately spent. Mostly forgotten today is the fact that before winning the Democratic nomination, Obama had made a big deal of his promise to take federal matching funds, and even challenged his potential Republican opponents to do the same. But once Obama became the Democratic nominee and realized that he could raise three-quarters of a billion dollars by forgoing public matching funds, he quickly changed his mind. And with his victory, Obama proved that government expenditures on election campaigns are an unnecessary burden on taxpayers that do nothing to reduce the influence of special interest money in politics.
The solution is to end all tax-paid subsidies for the political class, including public funding for presidential campaigns and party conventions. The House of Representatives passed a bill that would do just that last week, and with a comfortable bipartisan majority. Not only would it save the Treasury $617 million over 10 years, but it would also put an end to the quadrennial porkfest that public financing creates for consultants and other professional election vendors who get involved in presidential primary campaigns. Taxpayers should also be spared from funding fringe and vanity candidates. Lyndon LaRouche received $839,000 in federal matching funds for his 2004 election bid, a clear sign that this program has outlived its usefulness.
Public presidential financing has little popular support. In 2010, only 7.3 percent of tax filers checked the box on their 1040 forms that authorizes $3 to go into the presidential matching fund. Even worse, the presidential subsidy forces taxpayers to subsidize the largely symbolic major-party conventions.
Obama has promised to veto this bill. The official administration statement on it begins: "The presidential election public financing system was enacted in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal to free the nation's elections from the influence of corporations and other wealthy special interests." If public financing is so vital to the nation's political hygiene, we wonder if Obama is going to abide by spending limits when he seeks re-election in 2012.