House panel advances measures to ax public campaign financing

Lawmakers argue system is obsolete

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A House committee Tuesday approved measures to end public financing of presidential campaigns and national party conventions, as backers say the programs have lost support among voters and candidates and are a waste of taxpayer money.

The House Administration Committee also pushed forward a bill to kill an independent government commission designed to improve state-level voting procedures, arguing the body has become obsolete.

All three bills passed the Republican-led panel by voice vote and move to the full House for consideration.

Federal income tax return forms give taxpayers the option to divert $3 of their taxes to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund. Created in the 1970s, about 29 percent of fillers participated by 1980 — its peak in popularity. But by last year, that number dropped to about 5 percent.

The program also has become less popular among political candidates. In 2008 President Obama was the first major-party presidential candidate to decline public financing in a general presidential election. And during last year’s run for the White House, Mr. Obama and Republican nominee Mitt Romney opted out of the program.

The fund also partially pays for the presidential nominating conventions for the two major parties, and for minor parties if their presidential nominee received at least 5 percent of the vote in the previous election. In 2012, the Democratic and Republican parties each received about $18 million for their conventions.

Rep. Candice S. Miller, Michigan Republican and panel chairwoman, said the programs are obsolete, unpopular and reflect the adage that a “government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see.”

“Despite the fact that they have outlived their purpose, they continue to exist — costing taxpayers millions each year with zero benefit in return,” she said.

The committee’s senior Democrat, Rep. Robert A. Brady of Pennsylvania, agreed that spending taxpayer money to pay for party conventions isn’t ideal. But he opposed two Republican-crafted bills to end the practice on the grounds they didn’t go far enough, and instead suggested a substitute that would restrict the use of “soft money” from special interest groups for conventions. He withdrew his measure so the panel could have more time to review it.

Mr. Brady also opposed the Republican bill to end public financing of presidential campaigns, saying it’s still needed to counter a “disturbing pattern of increasing influence” of special-interest groups funneling money into politics .

“The system needs reform, not repeal,” he said.

The committee also voted to repeal the Election Assistance Commission — created as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that was designed to help modernize state-level voting systems in response to Florida’s ballot-counting troubles during the 2000 presidential election.

Republicans say the four-seat commission — in limbo since late 2010 when it last had a quorum — has run its course and is a waste of public money. Democrats support the agency, complaining that Republicans have undermined its authority by holding up nominations and repeatedly trying to abolish it.

While the bills stand a good chance of clearing the full House, which Republicans control, they likely would die in the Democrat-led Senate.

The House panel also held a hearing Tuesday on a bill aimed at stopping people from voting in more than one state in federal elections. The proposal would require anyone who moves to a new state and applies for a driver’s license to say whether he intends the new state to serve as his residence for voting purposes.

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