Skip to comments.Republicans may make U-turn, back campaign finance reform plan
Posted on 08/25/2003 11:29:26 AM PDT by Pikamax
Republicans may make U-turn, back campaign finance reform plan By IAN BISHOP
Sun Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON As the George W. Bush fundraising machine fills up during pit stops across the country, a sobering scenario is gripping Republicans: The likely pacesetter for 2008 is approaching in the rearview mirror. And she isn't a Republican.
Hillary Rodham Clinton may force Republicans to shift gears in support of overhauling the presidential public financing system, which President Bush spurned in 2000 and will do so again during the current election.
Bush is expected to pocket a previously unimaginable $200 million without the help of federal matching funds, throwing the system into turmoil. That leaves Democratic candidates trying to chase him on the fundraising circuit or be tied to spending restrictions attached to the public money.
"It's dawning on Republicans that George Bush is doing this, but the tables could be turned," said Mary Boyle, spokeswoman for Common Cause, a Washington-based campaign watchdog group.
That prospect may draw unanticipated GOP support to a new bill that the four lawmakers who championed campaign finance reform are currently crafting.
The campaign finance four representatives Marty Meehan, D-Mass., and Christopher Shays, R-Conn., and senators John McCain, R-Ariz., and Russ Feingold, D-Wisc. are working to overhaul the system to meet the demands of a modern presidential campaign.
"There is wide spread agreement that the public financing system for presidential elections is broken and needs to be repaired," Meehan said.
The lawmakers are calling for more public money, for it to be given to the viable candidates earlier in the campaign and for there to be higher spending limits. They intend to propose the legislation later this fall and have it in place by 2008.
"We see this as a serious solution," Boyle agreed.
Under the current system, presidential candidates who raise at least $5,000 from at least people 20 in each of 20 states are eligible to receive a matching grant of up to $250 per donation during the primary cycle.
During the general election cycle, the nominee from each major party receives a public grant to wage their campaign. Bush and former Vice President Al Gore each received grants of $67.5 million in 2000. In 2004, the grant is expected to be $74.4 million.
Democratic candidates opting to take the public financing during the 2004 primary can expect to receive a match of about $18 million, with an overall spending limit of $45 million, according to the Federal Election Commission, the agency tasked with overseeing federal campaigns.
"Candidates say it's not enough of a match, and that's why you've heard rumblings from (former Vermont Gov. Howard) Dean's and (Massachusetts Sen. John) Kerry's campaign," said Ian Stirton, an FEC spokesman.
Bush, meanwhile, will be able to balloon his campaign war chest and forsake the public financing system this year in part because of the campaign finance reforms championed by Meehan and his reform-minded colleagues.
As a component of the reform to rid so-called soft money donations to the political parties, the law's crafters raised the amount a donor can give directly to a candidate, from $1,000 to $2,000 per election cycle. Bush can now turn to his wealthy donors and solicit twice as much from them in 2004.
While the donation limits have increased and the dynamics of a presidential campaign have changed drastically, the 30-year-old presidential public financing system has not kept pace.
Decisive primaries are now crammed into a two months in the first part of next year, from the New Hampshire primary on Jan. 27 and into mid-March.
Primary matching funds arrive on Jan. 1, less than a month before the primaries begin, and are often exhausted by the time the primary polls close.
The general election grant is not given to the Republican or Democratic nominee until they are officially anointed at their respective party's convention.
"The candidates will essentially be broke from March to (the Democratic convention at the end of July) and Bush will have his money to spend," Stirton said. "That's why some people are contending it doesn't work well."
Bush is the only candidate to shun the public financing for the primary cycle since the system was established in 1976 during the post-Watergate era. No candidate has ever declined the grant for the general election.
The flaws Bush has exposed in the system have never ruffled the GOP. Republicans have long held a fundraising advantage over Democrats.
"I want you to know that I'm getting ready for the coming campaign," Bush said this week. "I'm loosening up."
But several GOP insiders quietly concede that Clinton could easily raise $100 million to $200 million for 2008 while a wide-open Republican field will be jockeying for position and money.
Meehan and his cohorts believe these winds of political change will bring about "some real bipartisan support" for remaking the system.
Although the details are still being ironed out, the lawmakers intend to propose increasing the matching funds available during the primary from a one to one ratio on the first $250 of a donation to a three to one ratio for the first $500. They also plan to boost the grant available to the two major party nominees to $120 million.
They also seek to make the primary matching funds available by July of the year preceding the election, six months earlier than the current schedule.
And they want to give the general election grant to the apparent winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries in advance of their formal nomination at the convention.
To pay for the increases, lawmakers will try to increase the $3 amount a taxpayer may check-off on his or her income tax form to pay for the system.
Meehan said he will push to have the voluntary check-off increased to $10, with an option of making a donation of considerably more.
"That would significantly increase the funding," Meehan said.
Meanwhile, Clinton's recently published memoir has been on the New York Times bestseller list for the past nine weeks, her name recognition is unquestioned and her popularity among Democratic voters, who lobbied unsuccessfully to pull her into the current race, is soaring.
On the Republican side, no clear successor to Bush has emerged. While Bill Clinton passed the Democratic torch to Gore and Ronald Reagan previously passed his off to George H.W. Bush, President Bush is unlikely to have that option. Vice President Dick Cheney, who has a history of heart ailments, will be 69 in 2008.
During the lengthy battle on Capitol Hill to pass campaign finance reform, the needed momentum came from a Republican backlash to the outlandish fundraising practices of Bill Clinton and Gore. Yet without further tinkering, Hillary Clinton could use the current system to leave Republicans in the dust.
Ian Bishop's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .
Marty Marty Marty, you almost got it:
There is wide spread agreement that the public financing system for presidential elections is broken and needs to be eliminated
I remember seeing these data, but I could not find a reference anymore. Can you help?