WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., introduced legislation Tuesday to reform presidential campaign finance aiming to boost the role of small, public donors in presidential races.
“The public financing system … has enriched the political discourse of the country by ensuring that the American people have a voice in elections, not just connected insiders, special interests or wealthy donors,” Udall said. The current system, he said, does not provide enough money, or money early enough, to be effective in a modern campaign.
Public campaign financing began in 1974 to restore faith in elected officials after Watergate, Udall said. There are two different systems for primary and general elections: a partial public financing system for the primary elections, when candidates can receive federal taxpayer funds to match money they raise privately; and a full public financing system for the general election, when party candidates can receive a grant of taxpayer money to fund their entire campaign instead of collecting private donations.
Federal money for presidential campaigns and party conventions comes from the Presidential Election Campaign Fund of the U.S. Treasury. When filing income taxes, taxpayers can check a box to allocate a portion of their taxes to the fund. The process does not raise taxes, but rather redirects it.
A candidate can choose to participate in only one system, neither system, or both systems if they are chosen as their party’s nominee.
Udall’s bill hopes to modernize the 40-year-old system, including:
Eliminating spending limits on candidates who opt into the public financing system.
Requiring participating candidates to agree to public financing for the primary and general election.
Increasing the ratio of money the government matches for public contributions less than $200 to a 4-to-1 match for primary elections.
Requiring primary candidates to raise at least $25,000 in 20 states, with a limit of $1,000 per donor, to qualify for public financing.
Ending public financing for party conventions.
Requiring that candidates disclose all bundled contributions – money pooled by various people to increase the political influence of a particular business or profession – in excess of $50,000.
Raising the opt-in amount for public presidential fund allocation on income-tax forms from $3 to $10 for individual taxpayers and from $6 to $20 for married couples.
Campaign-finance reform is necessary to ensure that the American people have a voice in the political process, Udall’s staff said. By amplifying a $200 donation into $800 with public funds, politicians may be encouraged to spend more time with constituents rather than with high-dollar donor groups.
“This legislation encourages more participation in elections by empowering small donors and incentivizing presidential candidates to spend more time spreading their message,” Udall said. “It ensures that our elected officials are beholden only to the public they serve and not their corporate sponsors.”
Neither President Obama nor Republican candidate Mitt Romney have opted into partial public financing in the 2012 election. This has led both men to hold lavish fundraisers with wealthy donors and powerful interest groups.
As of April 30, the Obama campaign had raised more than double that of Mitt Romney’s at nearly $220 million to nearly $100 million, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Rachel Karas is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.