Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Public Financing 2.0?

Last week House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Paul Sarbanes published an op-ed in the Washington Post discussing H.R. 20, the Government by the People Act. The bill seeks to balance the effect of Citizens United, which according to the op-ed “shook the foundation of our democracy.” The Act would provide:

  • A refundable $50 tax credit;
  • Establish a public matching fund which candidates would be eligible for if they agree to a limit on large donations and demonstrate broad based support from a network of small-dollar contributors; and
  • Provide candidates with an opportunity to earn additional resources in the homestretch of a campaign.

Candidates for the House of Representatives and Delegate or Resident Commissioner are eligible for these funds. If this sounds eerily familiar, that’s because it is essentially an expanded version of the matching public financing for presidential campaigns. The fund attracted neither Mitt Romney nor Barack Obama in 2012. President Obama also did not accept the funds in 2008, after saying that he would pursue them. This is also the same funding system of which eight bills were introduced in the 113th Congress to either terminate all or parts of this program.

Pelosi and Sarbanes fail to mention that Citizens United actually expands free speech and allows dark horse candidates essentially the same chance these public funds would by allowing more open speech. Republicans have put forth a number of bills seeking to end the program which Democrats have rebuffed even though President Obama has balked at taking these funds in both elections. Instead of seeking to expand this funding, the Democrats should vote to end the existing program. 

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