Americans for Campaign Reform ● Campaign Legal Center Common Cause ● Democracy 21 ● League of Women Voters Public Campaign Action Fund ● Public Citizen ● U.S. PIRG
March 8, 2007
Dear Presidential Candidate,
Our organizations strongly urge you to take the important actions set forth in this letter to help save the system of spending limits and public financing for presidential elections and to preserve the integrity of the presidency.
It is essential to the health of our democracy that we avoid having the presidency on a permanent auction block and presidential candidates engaged in a never-ending race to spend ever-growing massive amounts of private contributions.
We are making the same request to the other 2008 presidential candidates in both parties.
The organizations include the Americans for Campaign Reform, Campaign Legal Center, Common Cause, Democracy 21, the League of Women Voters, Public Campaign Action Fund, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG.
The actions we seek are discussed below and include the following:
The Presidential Public Financing System
The presidential public financing system was established in 1974 in the wake of the historic Watergate scandals. The system has served the nation and the presidency well for much of its thirty-year existence.
In upholding the system’s constitutionality in 1976, the Supreme Court in Buckley v. Valeo set forth the policy goals that led to its enactment:
Congress was legislating for the “general welfare” – to reduce the deleterious influence of large contributions on our political process, to facilitate communication by candidates with the electorate, and to free candidates from the rigors of fundraising.
Three decades later, a New York Times editorial (February 6, 2007) said about the system:
Once upon a time, Washington managed to fully confront a corruption scandal and invent a government solution that actually worked for 30 years. The scandal was Watergate. The solution was the innovative option of providing public financing to presidential campaigns as a means of curbing the influence of big money donors like those who ran amok in President Richard Nixon’s 1972 re-election.
All Republican and Democratic presidents elected since 1976 have used the public financing system to finance their general election races. This included Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.
All of the Democratic and Republican opponents they faced in the general election also used the system to pay for their general election campaigns. In addition, almost all of the presidential primary candidates in both parties also used the public financing system to pay for their primary races during the period from 1976 to 2004.
The system, furthermore, has provided for competitive elections. Challengers have defeated incumbent presidents in three of the six presidential races run under the presidential public financing system that involved an incumbent president.
The 2008 Presidential Election
As you know, however, the presidential public financing system is now broken
and it needs to be fixed. The spending limits for presidential primaries, for example, are far too low to meet the costs of running a modern presidential primary campaign. This has resulted in primary candidates in both parties rejecting the system for their 2008 races.
The problems with the presidential funding system today are primarily the result of the failure of Congress to take action to modernize and update the system since it was enacted thirty years ago. These problems can and must be solved.
In the 2008 presidential election, for example, if the two major party nominees run their primary and general election campaigns wholly on private contributions, they are expected to spend a combined total of $1 billion on their campaigns.
This, in turn, places an unyielding demand on the candidates to raise huge amounts of private contributions and to use individual “bundlers” to provide six-and-seven figure total amounts for their campaigns. The big-money donors of the Watergate-era presidential election will be big-money bundlers in the 2008 presidential election.
The absence of an effective system for the presidential primaries, furthermore, makes it much harder for candidates who are not initial frontrunners to raise sufficient funds to be heard and to compete in the primaries.
Actions to Help Save the System
Last week, in response to an advisory opinion request by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), the FEC ruled that a presidential candidate could raise private contributions for the general election on a provisional basis, and then return the money and opt into the public financing system if the candidate won his or her party’s nomination.
As a result, the public financing system remains viable for the 2008 presidential general election, provided both major party nominees opt into the system.
In order to help ensure the next president is elected on the basis of the general election public financing system, as has been the case for every president elected during the past thirty-years, and to help ensure the system is repaired for future presidential elections, our organizations strongly urge you to make the following commitments.
Make a public commitment now to use the public financing system for the 2008 presidential general election, if you are nominated by your party and your major party opponent also agrees to use the system.
Following the FEC ruling last week, a Washington Post editorial (March 2, 2007) noted:
The FEC ruled that candidates can raise general election money now -- as most top-tier contenders are doing -- but change their minds down the road, return the private money and accept public financing instead. Candidates who are sincere supporters of public financing ought to be willing to pledge to stay within the system if they win their party's nomination and the other side's nominee promises to do the same.
The FEC ruling sets the stage for the two major party nominees to accept public financing for the general election without being placed at a competitive disadvantage.
The ruling allows a presidential candidate to raise sufficient private funds during the primaries to be able to run a competitive general election against a candidate who does not accept public financing, while also being able to opt into the public financing system for the general election if the other party’s nominee also agrees to use the system.
The public financing system for general elections was good enough for Presidents Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush to use in winning the presidency. It ought to be good enough for the next president to use as well.
To date, Senator Obama and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) have publicly committed to use the public financing system in the 2008 general election if nominated by their party and if their major party opponent also uses the system.
We urge you to make a public commitment now to use public financing in the general election if you are nominated and if your major party opponent agrees to use the system.
Agree to co-sponsor the legislation to fix the presidential public financing system, if you are in the Senate (S. 436) or the House (H.R. 776), or, if you are not in Congress, agree to publicly endorse the legislation.
Make a public commitment now to work for the enactment of legislation to fix the presidential public financing system if you are elected president.
The legislation to fix the presidential public financing system was introduced in the Senate by Senator Russell Feingold (D-WI) and in the House by Representatives Marty Meehan (D-MA), Christopher Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC).
Support for this legislation is a key test of where you and other presidential candidates stand on preserving the integrity of the presidency and providing sufficient resources for presidential candidates to be heard and to run competitive races.
The legislation increases the spending limits and the amount of public funds available for candidates who opt into the presidential system, and provides for further adjustments to allow opt-in candidates to run competitive races against candidates who opt-out of the system and substantially outspend the spending limits for opt-in candidates.
The presidential public financing legislation has been endorsed by our organizations. This includes Americans for Campaign Reform whose bipartisan leadership includes former Senators Bill Bradley (D-NJ), Warren Rudman (R-NH), Bob Kerrey (D-NE), and Alan Simpson (R-WY). This legislative effort also has been endorsed by the Committee for Economic Development, an organization of national business leaders and educators.
While S. 436 and H.R.776 would not take effect until 2009, reflecting the practical realities that the presidential race for 2008 is already underway, enacting this legislation as soon as possible is critical to protecting the presidency and our democracy in future years.
We urge you to co-sponsor this legislation if you are in Congress or endorse it if you are not, and to publicly commit to working for its enactment if you are elected.
A number of us will also be asking you to co-sponsor or endorse legislation to establish a system of spending limits and public funds for congressional races, after legislation to create such a system is introduced in Congress.
We would appreciate your responding to this letter from our organizations by email addressed to email@example.com or by mail addressed to Elenia Saloutsi, Democracy 21, 1875 I Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, D.C. 20006.
Americans for Campaign Reform
League of Women Voters
Campaign Legal Center
Public Campaign Action Fund