Showing posts with label campaign finance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label campaign finance. Show all posts

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.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Whither Campaign Finance? The Fair Elections Now Act

It's funny that campaign finance came up here yesterday; the same day that a bipartisan group of senators and representatives announced a new piece of legislation to provide public financing of congressional elections.

For starters the system being proposed by Senators Durbin (IL-D) and Specter (PA-R) and Representatives Jones (NC-R), Larson (CT-D) and Pingree (ME-D) does not address presidential campaign finance at all. Yes, after Obama became the first presidential candidate to opt out of the federal matching funds system in the general election, that leaves a pretty big elephant (er, uh donkey?) in the room. Still this legislation is notable because it severely cuts back the cap on individual contributions for congressional candidates wanting to qualify for federal funding.

How does one qualify, you might ask?
In the House, for a candidate to receive access to $900,000, he or she must raise at least $50,000 dollars from 1500 contributors ($33/contributor) in amounts no greater than $100. 40% of that $900,000 can be spent in the primary campaign while the remainder is left for the general election.

In the Senate, things are slightly different because of the greater disparity in terms of numbers of constituents per senator. Senators can collect $1.25 million plus $250,000 for each of his or her state's congressional disticts by raising money (Again, in amounts no greater than $100.) from 2000 contributors and an additional 500 others from each congressional district. In this case, one-third of the federal money could be used in the primary campaign with the remainder left for the general election campaign.

Additional money can be raised in amounts up to $100 from home state residents and matched at a 4:1 rate by the government.

This is a novel idea (one that has been tried at the state level), but there are obviously some questions that would arise should this be attempted at the national level.

1. If the balance constitutionally is between free speech and potential undue influence of money, does a $100 limit contributions not overprotect against the latter at the expense of the former? This would be a major issue in any challenge to this legislation if it were to become law. But to even get to that point it will likely have to survive the journey through two chambers packed with incumbents that would be lukewarm to the idea on average.

2. The constitutional questions are answered to some extent by the voluntary nature of the system. If it were a requirement that all candidates for congress adhere to these rules, the shouts of opposition would be much louder. But honestly, who is opting into this system if it isn't required?

3. What happens to the money in the event that a candidate runs unopposed in either (or both) the primary or general election? Is that money automatically forfeited or can primary money be carried over to the general election? (This one comes with an assist from occasional commenter, Greg.)

4. Timing. The timing of this announcement isn't the best. But you can't wait on the economy to turn around when reform is at stake necessarily. Still, more taxpayer money to politicians isn't something very many people/voters want to hear about at the moment. There's a reason fewer and fewer people check that $3 box on their tax forms every year.

This will be an interesting test case to follow because the other shoe is really going to drop when and if this process or something similar is extended in some way, shape or form to the financing of presidential campaigns.

UPDATE: Politico has more on the newly dubbed Fair Elections Now Act.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Public Financing, Dead?

John McCain sure thinks so. And that isn't that much of a stretch. [Truth be told, that isn't a stretch at all.]

But as Jay Cost said yesterday over at the HorseRaceBlog, it really isn't as simple as Obama opting out broke the system. The seeds for this were sewn all the way back in 1980 when John Connally shunned the public financing system to go-it-alone in his bid for the Republican nomination. Of course, his $11 million raised (just more than $28 million in 2009 dollars) earned one whole delegate, but the idea was out there. Candidates for office, especially the presidency, could out-raised the matching funds cap, not have to adhere to state spending caps (during the primaries) and be much better off because of it.

Now, Connally's tremendous failure was an example that certainly caused many a presidential campaign pause, but by 1996 the system had (really) outgrown its usefulness. A self-financed candidate like Steve Forbes could enter the fray and make waves without any real political experience. That his efforts and the competition from others in the Republican field that year put Dole at a major disadvantage once the Kansas senator wrapped up the nomination was a lesson to future candidates on both sides of the aisle. In other words, if your gauge is pointing to E at the end of the primary phase and your opponent's (especially an incumbent) is not, then your bid for the White House is going to be that much tougher.

And that lesson was extended to the general election campaign last fall. No candidate can put him or herself behind such a financial eight ball and hope to wind up in the Oval Office.

H/t: John Pitney over at Epic Journey for the Cost link. Good stuff.

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Thursday, June 19, 2008

Insult to Injury: Obama and His Money

Raise your hand if you didn't see this coming. Is there really a sizable group of people (who have been paying attention) that are surprised by Obama opting out of the public financing system for the general election? I'd imagine there aren't that many folks out there with raised hands. Let's put the shoe on the other foot for a minute. If the roles were reversed and McCain was the candidate who had made the choice to skip out on the public financing system, would the uproar be as big? Well, that's hard to say, but McCain likely could be counted on to have been a bit more disciplined than to make such a promise in the first place. That may be the difference. Sports blogger, Dan Shanoff, is fond of stating in instances of sports meets crime that it is the cover up that gets someone in trouble and not the crime itself. In politics, the game is slightly different. It isn't the decision that gets you in trouble, but the flip-flop instead. That is the case here. The uproar isn't over the decision to fund the campaign outside of the public financing system itself, but rather the promise and subsequent change.

Even then, is it really about the flip-flop? Or could it be that the GOP and its supporters are genuinely concerned about their chances in the fall? That's understandable. On the one hand, all the leading indicators signal a down year for the party of Lincoln. The economy has seen better days, support for the Iraq war remains low, and President Bush is fighting a weekly battle against setting records for new approval rating lows. So there's that, and now the Democratic nominee is going to have a money advantage too! What does that extra cash mean to Obama? Well, for once, a Democratic nominee will be the one with a cash advantage. It doesn't happen often. But that money advantage won't necessarily translate into more votes for the junior senator from Illinois. What it likely means is that McCain, who is already playing defense in a difficult environment for anyone with an R by their name, will be even more on the defensive.

Ads will surely be a part of the Obama camp's strategy (they already are), but grassroots efforts in seemingly unlikely states could be a part of the equation as well. Extra cash means Obama can make McCain play defense (eg: spend time and money) in states he probably wouldn't want to. Take Alaska, for instance. The polling that was out there yesterday continued to show a close race (at least for Alaska!) between McCain and Obama. If Obama can force McCain to defend Alaska, then keeping Kerry swing state wins like Pennsylvania or New Hampshire safe gets much easier. The good folks over at are already discussing the pros and cons of an Obama trip to the Last Frontier.

And that is the origin of the excitement on the left end of the blogosphere (some may argue there is only a left end) and the backlash on the right. This decision to opt out isn't the real issue. The fear of having to defend or delight in potentially being competitive in typically red states is the issue. Democrats should enjoy being the monied party for once because it won't last. What was it Bush said? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice...well, you won't fool me again. The GOP will certainly heed that advice and store this memory away to be used in a less hostile environment.

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