A New Chance to Make Presidential Campaigns about Voters Not Dollars

Today, amid considerable fanfare, bipartisan legislation was introduced in both houses of Congress to overhaul the way we finance the presidential campaigns. It is long, long overdue.

In 2008, winning the nation’s highest elective office is going to cost $1 billion between the two major party candidates. The figure is even higher if you include the vast sums spent by all the other candidates, parties and political committees.

Let’s put this figure into a little perspective. Viable presidential candidates must raise at least $100 million each by the end of 2007, before even entering the actual election year. This means collecting five $2,300 campaign contributions “every single hour, every single day, including weekends and holidays, for an entire year,” estimates political scientist Michael Malbin.

And then the fundraising really kicks into gear next year.

Where does all this money come from? Mostly from the same special interests who have business pending before the federal government. In order to make sure that jingle of the pocket books of any particular special interest are heard loud and clear, businesses and wealthy special interest groups will be represented by a “bundler.”

Bundlers usually are CEOs or lobbyists of a business or industry. They will approach a campaign and receive tracking identification from the campaign, say, a tracking number. The bundler then reaches out to all the managers and other individuals of the business or industry and ask them to mail in their individual campaign contributions of $2,300 (the legal limit from an individual to a federal candidate), and write the company’s tracking number of the check. That way the campaign knows which business or industry is responsible for those contributions.

Public Citizen is monitoring this practice of fundraising on its Web site www.WhiteHouseForSale.org,

and helping to connect the dots between funds raised and official

favors doled out. In a new study to be released this week, Public

Citizen found, for example, that one out of every four elite

fundraisers for the 2000 and 2004 Bush campaign received some form of

governmental appointment, ranging from ambassadorships, to study

commissions, even to cabinet posts.

To combat this fundraising frenzy and influence peddling, a new

bipartisan, bicameral legislative proposal is being introduced today.

The legislation is being introduced in the Senate by Sens. Russell

Feingold (D-Wis.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.),

Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Barack Obama

(D-Ill.); and introduced in the House by Reps. Chris Van Hollen

(D-Md.), David Price (D-N.C.), Rahm Emanuel (D-Ill.), Christopher Shays

(R-Conn.), Mike Castle (R-Del.), and Todd Platts (R-Pa.).

This is an excellent start, and these reform leaders should be commended, but we also need more members to join in

sponsoring this landmark legislation.  We make it easy for you to send a note to your members of Congress on White House for Sale.

This legislation would strengthen the presidential public financing

system so that resorting to private special interest funds and bundlers

will no longer seem so attractive. Specifically, the Presidential

Funding Act of 2007 would:

  • Increase the spending ceilings for publicly-funded candidates

    in both the primary (to $150 million) and general elections (to $100

    million) to reflect the true costs of electing a president. The

    spending ceilings are increased further if a non-participating

    candidate spends in excess of those ceilings.

  • Provide a 4-to-1 match of public funds to private donations of $200

    or less, which means that a $200 contribution ends up providing $1,000

    to a participating candidate in the primary elections. In the general

    election, participating candidates receive all of their campaign budget

    in public funds in exchange for giving up special interest

    contributions.

  • Enhance the funding source for the program by increasing the

    voluntary tax check-off system from $3 per individual to $10. The

    check-off does not add any tax burden to taxpayers. It simply allows a

    taxpayer to designate that a portion of his or her taxes will go to

    cleaning up presidential elections.

  • Prohibit the national parties from using unregulated special

    interest money to pay for their national party nominating conventions,

    better known as party “soirées.”

  • Require presidential campaigns to disclose all of their fundraising

    “bundlers” – those who receive credit from a campaign for collecting a

    large number of contributions from individuals, usually in an effort to

    curry favor with the presidential candidate.

This is good, solid legislation that is desperately needed to take the White House back off the auction block.

To get involved or learn more check out: www.WhiteHouseForSale.org