Public financing of political campaigns exists now for the U.S. Presidential race and for elections in 17 states, the city of Seattle, and six democracies other than the U.S. Congress has rejected public financing of congressional campaigns at least once during every session since Watergate. The latest public finance bill, written by Cong. Andrew Jacobs of Indiana, would also outlaw multi-candidate PACs. It is waiting for committee action. “Access to funds is just as important as controlling them.” John Hildreth “When you attempt to limit special interest contributions like PACs,” says Cong. Jim Mattox of Dallas, “they have followed a pattern of attempting to punish the members of Congress.” Fear of punishment, fear of decently financed opPonents, and dependence on the current system make Congress and state legislative bodies extremely reluctant to vote for public financing of their own campaigns. \(Lt. Gov. Bill Hobby calls public financing “an inappropriate use of tax money”; Republican attorney general candidate and state Sen. Bill Meier says, “If a candidate is truly interested and committed to seeking pubic office, he or she should be willing to make the political, personal, and financial sacrifice pressure will public finance legislation ever pass. The most noteworthy change in federal campaigns since the FECA became law is the enthusiastic participation of political action committees. Corporate contributions to congressional candidates totaled $2.5 million from 1972 to 1974, but in 1979 and 1980, corporations, through PACs, gave $11.3 million. Corporate PACs may solicit employees and stockholders for contributions, use payroll deductions to collect contributions \(opening the way for false operating expenses with corporate funds, and let the corporation itself choose the candidates to be helped. Corporations with government contracts may establish PACs. “Most political action committees do not recognize the two-party system, they recognize only incumbents,” said Cong. John Anderson in 1979. Incumbents receive twice as much special interest money as challengers. “Support for the incumbents,” Anderson explains, “is because they are a ‘solid investment,’ and contributions to challengers are made because of the need to allocate some `venture capital money.’ ” “There’s a laser-beam quality about PAC money,” says Common Cause pres ident Fred Wertheimer. “. . . it has the kind of impact that comes from focused, intensified energy. PAC givers have specific priority goals in mind; they often focus on committees: they are represented by lobbyists in Washington; and they are persistent in their requests for legislative assistance and in contributing every two years. Compare this with the impact on the system of the average individual who contributes $10 or $25 or $100 to a Congressional candidate. . . . It’s not a question of buying votes, it’s a question of relationships that get built, obligations and dependencies that get established.” The Federal Election Campaign Act also created, in 1974, the income tax check-off system to fund presidential campaigns. About 30% of American income-tax payers participate in the fund by earmarking one dollar of their annual income tax for the Presidential Election Campaign fund. In the 1980 election, $100 million of the fund’s $135 million funded primary and general election campaigns and the Democratic and Republican national conventions. “I can say that without your contribution, I would have lost.” Phil Gramm to auto dealers In the presidential primary, eligibility for public money is determined by one criterion: money. Candidates who raise at least $5000 from each of 20 states may accept matching campaign fiinds up to $250 per contributor, with a $7 million grant limit. Accepting the grant means accepting spending limits; John Connally is the only presidential candidate so far who has refused the public money. \(Connally now has a $1.6 million debt fund also paid $4,416,000 for each major party convention in 1980. Presidential candidates of parties that received more than 25% of the vote in the last presidential election are eligible for full public campaign financing in the general election, up to a limit set by Congress. Common Cause claims that this system allowed Jimmy Carter to effectively challenge incumbent Gerald Ford in 1976, and shortly after his victory Carter said, “I think the new election laws have brought us through the 1976 Presidential elections . . . with a minimum of obligation on my part to anyone.” The federal payments to Carter and Reagan for their 1980 fall campaigns were $29.4 million each. Because of the FECA’s “independent” spending loophole, which the Supreme Court created in an attempt to protect free speech, unofficial campaign groups spent another $10.6 million on Carter and Reagan. $28,000 for Carter, the rest for ReaIn the U.S. presidential election, minor parties and independent candidates do not enjoy as comfortable an arrangement as the Democrats and Republicans. To qualify for convention and general election funds, they must have reaped 5 to 25% of the vote in the last election or earn that many votes in the current election, in which case they are paid after the election. Third parties criticize the latter arrangement as a we’ll -give you alifesaverifyou can swim to shore plan. In 1980, independent presidential candidate John Anderson took 6.9% of the vote. Calculated in proportion to the average number of votes garnered by the two major parties, Anderson’s vote earned him $4 million in public funds. The biggest problem with the FECA is that it created public funding of presidential campaigns in a vacuum. To have a real effect, Congress must reform its own campaigns as well as presidential campaigns. In 1976, the first year of full public funding for presidential candidates, special interest contributions to Congress almost doubled from $12.5 million in 1974 to $22.5 million in 1976. “The money-heavy special interests couldn’t buy themselves a piece of the President, so they tried to buy as many members of Congress as they could,” observed John Gardner of Common Cause. The governments of Puerto Rico, West Germany. Sweden, Norway, Finland, and Israel also assume some campaign costs. Puerto Rico began public financing in 1957, when the ruling Popular Democratic party wanted to both abandon its corrupt system of intimidating government workers into making regular campaign contributions, and to ensure its own survival in the face of the wealthier Statehood Republican party. In Puerto Rico today political parties receive credit for campaign expenses based on the number of votes they received in the last election. No public money goes directly to the parties; instead they submit their bills and the government pays them. Puerto Rico’s voter turnout is higher than mainland America’s. Germany was the first major country to adopt public financing, in 1967. Parties who receive at least .5% of the vote in an election are eligible for a per-vote grant in the next election. \(Compare West Germany’s .5% threshold to America’s state level, per-vote grants are also provided to parties. In Sweden the federal government provides grants to political parties on the basis of the number of candidates each is THE TEXAS OBSERVER 13
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