Posted on May 06 2012 – 6:00 PM – Posted by: Doug Brady
Public financing of presidential elections, the greatest reform to come out of the post-Watergate era, died this year after a long illness. It was 36 years old, and was drowned by big money and starved by the disdain of politicians who should have known better.
From 1976 until 2008, every major-party presidential candidate took public money for the general election, adhering to spending limits that significantly reduced the influence of money on American elections. Candidates began dropping out of public financing for primaries in 2000, and then in 2008, Barack Obama abandoned the system entirely, preferring to raise more money from small donations, and promising to fixthe public program. He has made almost no attempt to fulfill that promise.
This year will be the first since Richard Nixon’s day that neither major candidate will accept public financing. Both Mitt Romney and President Obama plan to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, far more than they could get from the public system.
Public financing could still be resuscitated, but first, someone in power has to care about it. The Republican-led House has voted to kill the system outright. A few House Democrats have proposed a good bill to fix it, but no one in the Senate has picked up the bill. And the two major candidates are too busy grubbing for the unlimited donations that now dominate politics.