Unlimited Corporate Spending in Elections – And Now No Alternative Public Financing to Boot?

Public Citizen roundly condemns “the latest sneak attack by U.S. House GOP leaders to terminate the presidential public financing program and give corporations and the wealthy still more influence over American elections.”

On the heels of the fifth anniversary of the U.S Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United decision – which said that corporations may spend unlimited amounts to influence national, state, local and judicial elections – House Republicans have introduced H.R. 412, a bill to end public financing of presidential elections. The legislative proposal, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), is being whisked through a House Administration Committee hearing as early as today.

“A vote for H.R. 412 tells the American people that you want to give corporations more power over our government rather than make democracy work for ordinary Americans,” said Craig Holman, government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division, in a statement. “The measure also embraces the unintended consequence of Citizens United: dark money.”

In a letter to lawmakers, Public Citizen noted that Citizens United was wildly unpopular with the American public.

“The Congress could send no worse signal about being out of touch with ordinary Americans than to enact such measures that further bolster special interests in American politics,” the letter said.

Only in recent presidential elections has the public financing system grown outdated. Until the 2008 presidential election, all major party candidates agreed to accept the same amount in public funds to pay for their general election, resulting in challengers defeating sitting incumbents about half the time since 1976. Barack Obama was the first candidate to opt out of the public financing program in the general election, though other candidates have opted out of public financing in primary elections.

Legislation drafted to repair the presidential public financing system has been introduced by U.S. Reps. David Price (D-N.C.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). Legislation also has been introduced to create public financing systems for congressional elections by U.S. Rep. Paul Sarbanes (D-Md.) and U.S. Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.).

“We need to move forward with small-donor public financing systems for our elections to offset the flood of new corporate money that is endangering our very Republic,” said Lisa Gilbert, director of Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division. “Especially in the wake of Citizens United, the public financing system needs to be fixed, not eliminated.”

At the same hearing, U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.) is introducing another surprise bill, H.R. 195, which would terminate the revamped Election Assistance Commission (EAC). The mission of EAC is to ensure our elections run smoothly. The Senate has only recently confirmed new commissioners to the EAC.

Public Citizen strongly opposes H.R. 195. The EAC is now staffed by expert commissioners and deserves a chance to carry out its critical mission.

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