You know what’s even better than writing about elections? Writing about the policies that will determine the fate of elections. (According to moi.) Case in point, today’s “largely symbolic 239-160 vote” in the House of Representatives that would end public financing of presidential campaigns. I figure everything that has no chance of clearing the Senate or President Obama’s desk during this session will be known as “largely symbolic.” Also, everything with little fiscal impact.
Since the Watergate scandal, taxpayers have been permitted to check off a box on their tax forms that would send $3 (why can’t we fund the arts that way?) to a federal campaign fund from which a candidate who forgoes private fundraising can take an $84 million lump sum. The justification at the time was that it would “reduce the influence of unregulated private donations.” Both President Obama and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) refused to take this option in 2008, and instead raised their money privately.
Today, only 7 percent of taxpayers check off that box. If the program were eliminated altogether, it would generate $617 million in savings. Proponents want those savings to be used for deficit reduction and nothing else. According to my calculator, it will shave a whopping 0.0004 percent off the $1.4 trillion deficit. How very effectual. Next thing you know, we’ll have a “largely symbolic vote” on switching from Charmin to generic toilet paper in congressional bathrooms for the sake of fiscal responsibility and stuff.
But every bit of savings adds up on top of the last one, and it’s good to start small right after the State of the Union. (During which Obama himself called for deficit reduction and less spending, doncha know.) All such measures must be decided on the basis of principle. And in principle, considering Americans are allowed to choose if they want their money to be used for this purpose, it does very little to hurt them.
In fact, it doesn’t hurt anyone, unless you consider laziness on the campaign trail to be a form of self-hurt, which I do. By taking these funds instead of the ones provided to you directly, you are essentially admitting that there aren’t enough voters who would think about doing that. Or, if you are popular, it’s an admission that you like free money too much. In any case, a candidate with a large voter pool wouldn’t need them.
At the end of the day, only little-known third party candidates benefit from this program, and only if they meet the requirements. I’d like a third-party president as much as any good centrist, but they, more than anyone, should fundraise on the basis of merit.