Reincarnating Public Financing

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Apparently, the presidential public financing system died over the weekend. In lieu of flowers, letters can be sent to Congress and the White House asking why they have let a once-vibrant election reform languish even as the cost of campaigns (and attendant threat of corruption) skyrockets. Hillary Clinton didn't kill presidential public financing. It's been ailing for years -- but it can be revived.

 

First off, the use of the system has been in decline for many years as more and more candidates opt out of receiving the funds as the cost of campaigning far outpaces what the public financing system can provide. With top contenders expected to raise upwards of $100 million by the end of 2007, money has become the measure of a candidate's viability and the current system is ill-equipped to match what privately financed candidates can raise on their own through networks of wealthy donors, special interests, and high-powered lobbyist bundlers.

 

However, it has been far from a failure - as cited in the article, a 1986 bipartisan panel concluded: "'Public financing of presidential elections has clearly proved its worth in opening up the process, reducing the influence of individuals and groups, and virtually ending corruption in presidential election finance.'" Public financing is good for presidential elections, and the acknowledgement of weaknesses in the current system gives us an opportunity to improve it for the future, be it through increasing the sum appropriated to publicly financed candidates, increasing the match for small dollar contributions, or, ideally through implementing a full public financing system in the model of Maine, Arizona, and Connecticut statewide elections for the presidential race.

 

The current presidential public financing system served its purpose well for many years, but it has not been upgraded to keep pace with a changing campaign climate. With elections on the national scale becoming ever more expensive and candidates even more dependent on the few and the wealthy, the need for a vibrant public financing system is that much more acute.