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Editorials, Conn.'s Experience Suggest Pro-Public Funding Sentiment

Barack Obama’s $150 million haul in September so dramatically exceeded the $84 million grant he would have received had he opted in to the presidential public funding system that many pundits have declared the system moribund.

But a recent spate of newspaper editorials, the successful implementation of a public funding system in Connecticut and general disgust with the current regime among politicians suggest that sentiment in favor of public funding lives on, and may be increasing.

The Baltimore Sun, Philadelphia Inquirer and Orlando Sentinel all editorialized in recent days in favor of updating the presidential public funding system to make it viable. Candidates who participate in the system receive matching funds in the primary season and a government grant for the general election. In exchange, they agree to spending limits for the primaries and not to spend money beyond their grant for the general. The primary election system cratered in 2000, when then-Gov. George W. Bush opted out and far outraised the limits he would have otherwise faced. Obama has become the first major party nominee to opt out for the general election.

Meanwhile, there are signs that public funding, in general, might be enjoying a renaissance. The New York Times this week reported that Connecticut’s fledgling public funding system for state elections is experiencing high levels of participation by incumbents and challengers alike:

At a time when roughly half the states are seriously considering public financing of campaigns, Connecticut’s initial experience has exceeded the expectations of even its most enthusiastic supporters. Of the 343 candidates running in General Assembly elections, 258 — about 75 percent — are seeking public financing.

Also in Connecticut, Republican Rep. Chris Shays and his democratic challenger, Jim Hines, both endorsed public funding for congressional elections.