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Congress passed – unanimously in the Senate and without debate – and President Obama will sign, H.R. 2019, the “Gabriella Miller Kids First Research Act” (named after a 10-year old child who died last year of brain cancer). If the legislation actually did what it touts – to finance pediatric research – it would be a noble bill for a noble cause.
But it is a fig-leaf bill. Its real purpose is to begin dismantling the presidential public financing system, and is very unlikely to produce any revenues for pediatric research.
The bill was originally introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by U.S. Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), a longtime opponent of campaign finance reform. After Harper was unable to persuade Congress to approve earlier legislation that would have entirely defunded the public financing program, Harper re-worked the bill into what it is known now.
The legislation transfers public funds used to pay for the nominating conventions into the general treasury, then states that those funds may be used for pediatric research, if Congress ever decides to appropriate the funds for that purpose.
This same Congress slashed National Institute of Health (NIH) funding by $1.55 billion, which finances the pediatric research program, in the appropriations bills, and then placed caps on any further spending by NIH. The Kids First Research Act, if ever implemented, would transfer from the presidential public financing system to pediatric research, a pittance of what Congress slashed from the research budget. And even that pittance is not likely to happen. Given current spending caps on governmental agencies, Congress also would have to pass legislation lifting the spending ceiling for the National Institutes of Health to carry through with this appropriation, something that this Congress is very unlikely to do.
The only thing achieved by H.R. 2019 is de-funding convention financing under the presidential public financing program, which its its real intent.
To add insult to injury, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus said Tuesday that, now that federal funding for the quadrennial events will be cut off, political parties should be able to raise ‘soft money’ to pay for their presidential nominating conventions, seeking the kind of big checks parties have not been able to collect since the passage of the landmark McCain-Feingold campaign finance law.
The presidential public financing system was created to replace potentially corrupting “soft money” with public money in the selection of the president, largely in response to a soft money slush fund scandal at the 1972 Republican National Convention. In May 1971, the giant International Telephone and Telegraph Corporation (IT&T) pledged up to $400,000 to attract the 1972 Republican National Convention to San Diego. The company was facing several anti-trust lawsuits under the Nixon administration. Just eight days after the selection of San Diego for the Republican convention, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst agreed to an out-of-court anti-trust settlement with IT&T that the company considered very favorable. In the wake of this scandal, Congress approved a system of public financing for presidential elections, which included full public financing of the conventions, in an effort to remove the potentially corrupting corporate money from the convention process.
We have now gone full circle, back to the days of corporate “soft money” buying favors from party bosses and elected officials – masquerading in the name of financing pediatric research.
Craig Holman is the government affairs lobbyist for Public Citizen’s Congress Watch division.